The masterful follow-up to his universally celebrated 2017 album 50, Michael Chapman's True North finds the elder statesman of British song writing and guitar plumbing an even deeper deep and honing an ever keener edge to his iconic writing.
This authoritative set of predominantly new, and utterly devastating, songs hews to a more intimate sonic signature'more atmospheric, textural, and minimalist than 50, stately and melancholy in equal measure. Recorded in rural West Wales, True North unflinchingly surveys home and horizon, traveling from the Bahamas to Texas to the Leeds of Chapman's childhood, haunted by the mirages of memory and intimations of mortality.
Joining him on this introspective journey is a cast of old friends and new disciples: once again Steve Gunn produces and plays guitar, and fellow UK song writing hero Bridget St John sings, collaborating with cellist Sarah Smout and legendary pedal steel player BJ Cole, who has accompanied everyone from John Cale to Scott Walker, Elton John to Terry Allen, Felt to Björk.
The album begins with the gnawing regret of 'It's Too Late,' and every song Chapman sings thereafter directly references the passing of time'its blind ruthlessness, its sweet hazy delights in noirish language almost mystical in its terseness and precision. (The two transportive, gorgeous instrumentals, one per side, both have appropriately evocative'though decidedly not Northern'pastoral place names for titles: Eleuthera is an island in the Bahamas where Chapman habitually holidays every winter, and Caddo Lake straddles the border between Texas and Louisiana.)
This is Chapman at his darkest and most nocturnal, yes, but also his most elegant and subtle, squinting into the black hours with an unseen smile. By the time True North is out in the world, Chapman will be seventy-eight years old and will have released nearly as many records, a staggering achievement. True North represents the most nakedly personal album of his career, his most authoritative, unguarded, and emotionally devastating statement.
His universally celebrated full-band 2017 album 50 flirted with much-deserved triumphalism, offering a retrospective of his illustrious career, revisited in the company of the fellow UK song writing hero Bridget St John and a rowdy gang of younger acolytes including Steve Gunn, James Elkington, and Nathan Bowles.
The production hearkens back to Chapman's classic Millstone Grit (1973), as well as recalling Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind (1997); True North shares something of that album's spectral gloaming, midnight heartache, and sly, self-knowing winks.
Compared to 50, these recordings feel narrower in range, less overtly narrative and dynamic and more impressionistic and restrained, but they are correspondingly more piercing and arrow-like in their rending impact, more concerned with an archer's deadeye aim than pyrotechnics.
Whereas 50 featured two new songs among radical reinterpretations of material from Chapman's deep catalogue, True North includes twice as many new numbers among its quiver of eleven arrows''It's Too Late,' 'Eleuthera,' the fiery 'Bluesman,' and slow-rolling album centre piece 'Truck Song''confirming the exultant return of Chapman the songwriter. The other songs were selected from various obscure corners of Chapman's vast catalogue ('Youth Is Wasted on the Young' was previously recorded with Thurston Moore and Jim O'Rourke for a compilation, for example.) In these renderings they receive their definitive treatments, utterly transformed.
'A rich, haunting, collection of forlorn love songs, apocalyptic picaresques, and bewitching instrumentals that marks the latest stage in a remarkable career renaissance - ¦ by the godfather of new cosmic Americana' The Guardian
'Beatific. Haunted by memories & auguries, & communicating something of their uncanny twilight power' MOJO
'A finely tuned piece that surveys the looming thunderclouds of mortality and the biblical gloom of the times, and quietly, unshowily transcends both' Uncut
'A late-career triumph [of] mystery and weight' The Times
A master guitarist and songwriter - ¦ The godfather of experimental rock guitar' MOJO
'A world-class songwriter. Terrifically unpredictable - ¦ beyond any genre tag' Pitchfork.
After five decades of recording and touring, veteran British songwriter and guitar sage Michael Chapman has finally made what he calls his "American record," and the aptly titled 50 now stands as his late career masterwork, a moving legacy statement by a legend.
Backed by a collaborative group of friends and acolytes - Steve Gunn (who also produced), Nathan Bowles (Pelt, Black Twig Pickers), James Elkington (Jeff Tweedy, Richard Thompson), Jason Meagher (No-Neck Blues Band), Jimy SeiTang (Rhyton), and fellow UK songwriting luminary Bridget St John - Chapman tears into both bold renderings of new songs and radical reinterpretations of material from his revered catalog, the crack band adeptly scaling the same rarefied sonic heights of classic Harvest albums like Fully Qualified Survivor, guided by a true survivor's instinct, wit, and wisdom.
The result is a sublime chiaroscuro self-portrait, more shadow than light, as an invigorated Chapman wrestles with weighty themes of t ravel, memory, mortality, and redemption, his world-weary whispers assuming the incandescent power of prophecy.
The deluxe LP package includes tip-on jacket, printed inner sleeve, lyrics, and download card with two bonus tracks; the CD features a gatefold jacket, lyrics, and two non-LP bonus tracks.
The album includes both radical reinterpretations of obscure material from Michael's catalog as well as three new compositions: 'Sometimes You Just Drive,' 'Money Trouble,' and 'Rosh Pina.' A longstanding but freshly urgent preoccupation with (as Michael sings in a beloved early tune) 'time past and time passing' is evident straightaway, from the album title and the first line of the first song through the final lyric of the record. Never before in his storied career has Chapman gazed so steadily into the abyss of time lost and regained; never before has he engaged so intimately with his legacy and the changing meanings of his own music over time.
That he manages to do so without succumbing to nostalgia or sentimentality bears testament to the steely fortitude of his ruminative, tough-minded songs, which survey both inscape and landscape with the same stoical detachment. With 50, Chapman faces mortality with both guitar and chainsaw in hand, and endures.
It's the unguarded sound of Orpheus descending, the snake riding the guitar down the river Styx and returning upstream to tell his story.
Tracklisting: Side A: 1. "A Spanish Incident (RamÃ"n & Durango) 2. "Sometimes You Just Drive 3. "The Mallard 4. "Memphis in Winter
Side B: 1. "The Prospector 2. "Falling from Grace 3. "Money Trouble 4. "That Time of Night
"Jim is a great guitarist and a tremendous, empathetic listener." Richard Thompson
Drawing from British folk, avant-rock, and jazz traditions alike, Wintres Woma-- Old English for "the sound of winter"-- is James Elkington's debut solo record, but you've likely heard his masterful guitar playing and arranging, even if you didn't realize it.
Elkington (an Englishman living in Chicago) is an inveterate collaborator who brings his lyrical compositional and improvisational sensibilities to any group. He has toured, recorded, and/or collaborated with Jeff Tweedy, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn, Michael Chapman, Joan Shelley, Nathan Salsburg and Brokeback, to name just a few of his many enthusiastic admirers.
His assured album, recorded at Wilco's Loft, is baroquely detailed and beautifully constructed, featuring both his baritone vocals and some of Chicago's finest, including Tomeka Reid. Elkington was brought up in England during the '70s and '80s'a time when traditional and acoustic music was largely shunned in favor of the new wave (to which his largely-destroyed copy of The Fall's Perverted By Language will attest)'but found after his first forays into songwriting that some semblance of the folk music vernacular had crept in and wouldn't leave. Elkington's music, however, is anything if retroactive, and anything if folk music: 'It's not folk music,' he asserts. 'I may use the mechanics of folk music to put across my own ideas at times, but it really doesn't fall into any specific community or songwriterly tradition.
The album's lyrics do seem to have a preoccupation with unseen powers at work and other dimensions, both of which seem to show up in traditional English music, but it's based on my own experience and understanding, not anyone else's.' Wintres Woma was recorded at Wilco's studio, The Loft, in a five-day sprawl with engineer Mark Greenberg.
Elkington played and arranged all the instruments, with the exception of upright bass from Nick Macri, percussion from Tim Daisy, and string performances from Macie Stewart and Tomeka Reid, all of whom are veterans of Chicago's collaborative improvised music milieu. At times the results conjure Kevin Ayers delivering a Dylan Thomas or Gerard Manley Hopkins poem over a Bert Jansch song, all the while speaking in Elkington's singular voice, and shot with indelible melodies.
Each of these songs wrangles with memory, and even prophecy, in its knotty language and elegant, unpredictable progressions, drawing on the uncertain past'both personal and historical'in order to negotiate the uncertain future. In that sense, despite James'protestations, perhaps it is folk music.
RIYL: Steve Gunn, Michael Chapman, Kevin Ayers, Bert Jansch, Ryley Walker, Jim O'Rourke, Scott Walker, Talk Talk.
Tracklisting: 1. Make It Up 2. Hollow in Your House 3. Wading the Vapors 4. Grief Is Not Coming 5. When I Am Slow 6. The Parting Glass 7. The Hermit Census 8. Greatness Yet to Come 9. Sister of Mine 10. My Trade in Sun Tears 11. Any Afternoon
Deluxe 140g virgin vinyl LP features heavy-duty gatefold download code.
'Near-religious drone. The effect is kaleidoscopic.' The Quietus
'Devotional ambient dreamscapes ... follows in the fertile footsteps of Terry Riley and Alice Coltrane.' Uncut
'Recalls the time-lapse of an epic nature documentary ... Such intention, such mindfulness, such clarity of vision.' The Observer
A twelve-faceted so nic inquiry into celestial cycles and the illuminating nature of darkness, Bellowing Sun is the majestic culmination of composer, harmoniumist, and synthesist Jaime Fennelly's immersive explorations of the natural world's sensory dimensions and the dialogues between musical traditions'acoustic and electronic, vernacular and avant-garde.
Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for its world premiere performance, and recorded and mixed by Fennelly with John McEntire (Tortoise), it features Janet Beveridge Bean (Freakwater), Jim Becker (Iron and Wine), and Jon Mueller (Death Blues).
A twelve-faceted sonic inquiry into celestial cycles, the rhythms of the natural world, and the illuminating nature of darkness, the accompanying album Bellowing Sun is the majestic culmination of Fennelly's immersive explorations of the natural world's sensory dimensions and the dialogues between musical traditions'acoustic and electronic, vernacular and avant-garde.
The solitary compositional genesis of the piece, and a significant portion of its early recording (before tracking and mixing sessions with John McEntire of Tortoise), occurred at Bean's home atop a dune of fine quartz 'singing sands' on the shore of Lake Michigan. Sonically, Bellowing Sun is both kaleidoscopic and telescopic in nature, offering a radiant palette of rhythmic, textural, and tonal complexity, as well as rapid shifts in scale, from the intimately corporeal to the dizzyingly cosmic.
All four J's'Jaime, Janet, Jim, and Jon'appeared together on Undying Color, but have since solidified into a formidable, cohesive unit, a true band capable of increasingly expansive arrangements. Though divided into twelve movements, or aspects'zodiacal sectors, perhaps'the piece functions as a heroic, integral whole.
The album's sequence reveals a dynamic push and pull between contemplative stasis and headlong momentum, imparting a palpably physical mass to the cataracts of sound. Bean sings on half of the tracks, including early stunner 'Matchstick Grip' and the spectacular closer 'Pause to Wonder.' Whether articulating words or intoning phonemes, her powerful, lucent voice elevates the proceedings to a devotional plane whenever it emerges from the saturated field of sound.
Tracklisting: Side A: 1. Feeding on the Flats 2. Matchstick Grip 3. A Palinopsic Wind
RIYL: Popul Vuh, Henry Flynt, Arthur Russell, CAN, La Düsseldorf, Tony Conrad & Faust, Broadcast, Terry Riley & Alice Coltrane - ¦
Side B: 4. Zeitgebers 5. Lanterns on the Beach 6. Vermillion Pink
Side C: 7. Halfway to the Zenith 8. Oculate Beings 9. Talking Knots
Side D: 10. Twenty-One Falls 11. Acrophasing 12. Pause to Wonder