Record Of The Week # 93

Marshall Chapman – Songs I Can’t Live Without

If you’ve been making music for as long as septuagenarian Marshall Chapman has, you have earned the right to pick someone else’s songs and make them you own. The South Carolinian released her first album in 1977 and is respected in her own right as a songwriter. Here she visits classics by Leonard Cohen, Bob Seger, Carole King, Elvis Presley and others. On the first listen Betty LaVette came to mind: a careworn voice that is perfectly matched to the selection. It’s redolent with all life’s experience, carrying authority and never to be hurried. Both these ladies bless each cover with a new interpretation and poignancy that makes them convulse with gravitas that simply arrests you.

Neilson Hubbard’s production is terrific. He understands her talents and the essence of each cover to pitch it perfectly. Her voice is set atop a sparse and atmospheric acoustic sound with Will Kimbrough adding deft but important flourishes on electric guitar. She starts with Leonard Cohen’s “Tower Of Song”, only a person of a certain age can sing “Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey / I ache in the places where I used to play”.  Bobby Charles’ masterpiece “Tennessee Blues” is faithfully reproduced, which didn’t need any adaptation; it fits her like a glove. Given her Southern heritage and laid back groove any JJ Cale song would fit, and she picks “After Midnight”. 

Arguably the least promising songs deliver the most pleasure – “Don’t Be Cruel” swings. Dan Mitchells’ honky-tonk piano bolted to Hubbard’s snare brushes is uplifting and managed to purge The King’s version from my mind after a few listens. “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” reminds me of my youth and maybe the odd campfire and tambourine as it does Chapman who recounts her love of the song starting when she was 8 years old. This last song includes a spoken passage that is homely and delightful over a gospel backing. A fabulous exit from a fabulous album. After only nine tracks may we have volume two, please.

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