Memphis in winter....
Released January 2017
I have to shamefully admit that, until I heard "Memphis In Winter" on a compilation from "Mojo" magazine, I had never heard of Michael Chapman. He has been putting out music for fifty years and this album is released on that landmark, hence the title. Chapman is a UK singer-songwriter/guitarist who worked with a pre-Bowie Mick Ronson on one of his early albums. He has a gruff folky voice and, reading about him, he has garnered a fair amount of respect over the years. How he slipped under my radar for all these years is a mystery.
So there we go, I am reviewing this album "cold", so to speak. Apparently, it is described by Chapman himself as his "American album". So, maybe it is slightly different to his many other works. Some of the songs are re-recordings of earlier songs, though.
Anyway, it is certainly a very "Americana" sounding piece of work. When I heard "Memphis In Winter" I presumed Chapman to be an American. I am familiar with some of the work of US guitarist Steve Gunn, and he plays guitar on this album, so the ambience therefore is no surprise. Chapman was 75 when he recorded this, and, while his voice sounds suitably aged it also has that experience to its tone and a fetching world-weariness.
1. A Spanish Incident (Ramón And Durango)
2. Sometimes You Just Drive
3. The Mallard
4. Memphis In Winter
5. The Prospector
6. Falling From Grace
7. Money Trouble
8. That Time Of Night
9. Rosh Pina
"A Spanish Incident (Ramón And Durango)" is a beguiling Dylan meets Tom Waits sort of growler, with some catchy piano parts and a Leonard Cohen-esque vocal from Chapman. It has some country style banjo/mandolin? and a rich powerful drum sound. "Sometimes You Just Drive" is a haunting, country blues-ish number with a classic Americana gruff vocal. It is marvellously evocative in a slow, sleepy way. "The Mallard" has huge echoes of Chris Rea in its bluesy/folky vocal delivery and indeed in the tune's slow burning melody and bucolic lyrics. It has a killer bass line and subtle guitar near the end.
The song that attracted me to Chapman, "Memphis In Winter" is a wonderfully gritty, mysterious bassy grinder. Chapman's voice is again Cohen-influenced. It is packed full of atmosphere and cynical, observational lyrics. Great stuff. The guitar near the end (presumably from Steve Gunn) is superb. "The Prospector" is a story song about a gold prospector, featuring some excellent, industrial guitar. "Falling From Grace" has an acoustic intro similar to some of Bruce Springsteen's acoustic work. Indeed, the whole song sounds a bit Springsteen-esque.
"Money Trouble" is a Band-influenced slice of country rock with some infectious guitar-picking backing. The main riff reminds me of something but I can't put my finger on what, which is infuriating. Something off "Led Zeppelin III" I think. "Friends" - that's the one. Funny how several songs over the years have hints of that riff in them, notably CSNY's "Carry On". "That Time Of Night" is movingly, sleepily beautiful. It has the feel of a Keith Richards solo number. There is a lovely gentle bass on it. "Rosh Pina" is the album's only instrumental - a laid-back acoustic and bass piece of aural relaxation. It is augmented perfectly by Steve Gunn's electric guitar half way through. "Navigation" is a dreamy, walking pace acoustic guitar and prog rock-sounding organ number to close this impressive album. Now I have to check out more of Chapman's work. I've only got fifty years to catch up on.