PARADISE OF BACHELORS 20th Jan 2017
The Mexicali border via Yorkshire….. Michael Chapman opens with a tale of desperadoes and adopts a Transatlantic tone, chucking in snippets of Spanish. The band is nigh-on perfect and the guitar playing exactly suited to the tune. I’m reminded a little of Willie Nelson and his romantic pictures of life on the high prairie.
A modern-day troubadour, we are lucky enough to have Michael touring pocket-size venues and giving us intimate performances. Over in Otley last year, for example, it was just him and his acoustic guitar in the back room of a bistro, nothing fancy – just pared down road songs and guitar in the service of the song. He’s not flashy, Chapman; you hear the expertise but he doesn’t need to show off. On record – on this disc – he lets rip a bit more, probably at the producer’s behest. The Yorkshire comes out in Mallard, a train song entirely in the Northern style. He has a melancholy take on leaving his woman and the fastest steam train, resting in the National Railway Museum in York. Tie that to the gorgeous finger-picking and you have the appeal of the album – quality songs and understated playing.
Michael Chapman was a busy man in the seventies, working in Elton John’s band and elsewhere, turning out excellent solo albums too. In the intervening three or four decades he has grown into himself, honing his blues vision and grinding his voice into a gruff tool. This album; drawing on past songs as well as new material, features a full band with three guitarists, allowing plenty of interplay and different voices, including some nice Neil Young-style jamming on the rambling picaresque tale of The Prospector. The song just goes ahead and jams at length, walking through Chapman’s vision and reluctant to stop the guitars. It’s hypnotic as a solo pokes out through the intertwining guitars.
Sometimes You Just Drive is wider open, a broad sound stage of loping rhythm and Michael’s hoarse voice. Elsewhere, songs are pictures, Memphis In Winter being snapshots of poverty and Falling From Grace, a few simple tropes that define a sad man, a man lost to the world through absent love and too much hope – perhaps one of Jackie Leven’s three o’clock men (once upon a time, pubs shut for a couple of hours, between 3 and 5, and the denizens would have to wander home and back).
The only really simple song is Money Trouble – a song with no hidden depths but a great singalong chorus. I can already hear fellow Yorkshireman, Brendan Croker, making the audience sing along. He blurs his way through an uncertain middle of the night song, a song of doubt and reflection in That Time Of Night before a detailed instrumental, allowing you to focus on the guitar magic and the closer, Navigation; another song of journeys and the mysterious depth of life.
Why’s the album called 50? Michael is 75 and this is his fiftieth year in the music business. It’s been a long trip and one that has brought him only closer to his instrumental voice. For that, we thank him.