Monday, April 22, 2013

Marshall Chapman: “Blaze Of Glory” (2013) CD Review

I became a fan of Marshall Chapman’s music when I heard her 2010 release Big Lonesome. That is an excellent CD, one I’ve listened to quite a bit. So of course my expectations were fairly high for her new album, Blaze Of Glory. And she certainly does not disappoint. This is one of my favorite albums of the year so far, and two of the songs in particular are stand-outs: “Beyond Words” and “Dreams & Memories.”

The songwriting on this album is really strong. And I also love Marshall Chapman’s voice. She seems to give you everything; there’s nothing hidden, and nothing shy about her delivery. And there is often something quite sexy about the way she sings. All but two tracks on this release are originals.

The album opens with “Love In The Wind,” a song which uses that great Bo Diddley rhythm. That sound always makes me feel good, and often gets me dancing. There’s something about it that says life is all right; it works on some gut level. “Love In The Wind” is a duet with Todd Snider. After the line, “I gaze at you and I get high” there’s a little chuckle that doesn’t feel planned, and so is delightful. I love the way Marshall sings the lines, “Lovin’ you is like loving the rain/That first drop falls and I’m insane,” particularly the way she plays with the word “rain.”  She sings “Here we go” as they head into a cool instrumental section. There is some nice stuff by Jim Mayer on bass on this track.

“I Don’t Want Nobody” opens with the line, “I don’t want nobody calling me their honey but you,” and I immediately love it. Her voice is sexy, which works so well with this sort of love song, and the song has a great country rock vibe. Plus, I dig the line, “I don’t want nobody/Telling me I’m bitchin’ but you.” She turns quite playful by the end.

I love the feel of “Nearness Of You,” that early rock and roll slow dance number. Those songs are still so effective, and this rendition is wonderful. This is one of only two covers on this album. It was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington, and has been done by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Bing Crosby, Etta James and many others. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I need no soft lights/To enchant me/If you’ll only grant me/The right to hold you ever so tight/And to feel in the night/The nearness of you.”

“Beyond Words” is my favorite song on this album. It’s gorgeous, and simple, and perfect – a wonderful love song with lines like “The touch of your hand/And my heart is helpless/And that’s just the way/The way that it is.” Everything about this song is just exactly right, from the near whisper in her voice at times, to that occasional deep thump of the bass drum, to that wonderful guitar part by Will Kimbrough. This is one of my favorite songs of the year so far. Even if for some reason you don’t want to pick up this disc, you should at least check out this song.  ’Cause wherever you are/That’s where life is.”

“Let’s Make Waves” is a different kind of love song, with a fun vibe. The line “The Atlantic, the Pacific/Okay I’ll be specific” makes me laugh. This one was written by Marshall Chapman and Shannon Wright.

“Dreams & Memories” begins with the lines “Last night I dreamed about you/You called me by my name.” Something about the sound of this song strongly presents this as a doomed love, even as she sings, “When I awakened I was happy.” There is a wonderful tension to this song. It is powerful and beautiful, definitely one of this CD’s many highlights. You’re right with her when she sings, “Dreams and memories/Right now that’s all I have/Dreams and memories/To keep my heart alive.” And there is some nice work by Mike Utley on the Hammond B3.

The second of the album’s covers, “Blues Stay Away From Me,” was originally done by the Delmore Brothers, and covered by several artists over the years. This tune has a good rhythm. And of course I absolutely love the piano – that old style always sounds so good to me.

When I go to a concert, if I get even just one moment when the music transports me completely out of myself, then it’s a great night. In “Waiting For The Music,” Marshall Chapman sings of the anticipation of love, “Waiting for the music to take me away.” Sometimes music is a good substitute for a lover. Close your eyes, and let Marshall Chapman carry you away. “You don’t have to do anything/All you have to do is love/Now you go find yourself a song to sing.”

“Call The Lamas” is certainly the goofiest song on this album. It’s my least favorite, but there is still something kind of adorable about it. Like the “Om” bit, which I can’t help but like. And it has something of a reggae thing going on. I wonder if the Dalai Lama would dig it. She released a different version of this song on her 2006 album, Mellowicious! 

“Not Afraid To Die” is a great country song. Marshall reminds me a lot of Johnny Cash on this one. She sings, “I did everything I could to die young/And leave behind a beautiful memory.” I love the backing vocals, which show she’s still very much of this world, surrounded by good folks. This song has a positive vibe, especially with lines like “So bring it on whatever lies ahead/Sorrow, joy, heartbreak and the rest/’Cause the only thing that matters in the end/Is the love you gave to those you love the best.” By the way, this album itself works as an argument against the line, “I’ve already lived way past my prime.”

Interestingly, “Blaze Of Glory,” the last song on the album, starts seemingly as a variation on the theme, with the line “I never intended to make it this far.” But this song is actually quite a bit different from the previous track. In one verse, it looks back to her youth when she saw Elvis Presley perform from the balcony reserved for “colored” folks (her family’s maid took her to the show). Each time “blaze of glory” is sung, it has a different meaning. At the end, she sings, “Now every morning at the break of dawn/I brush the sleep out from my eyes/I’ve got to see that sun rise up in a blaze of glory.”

CD Track List

  1. Love In The Wind
  2. I Don’t Want Nobody
  3. Nearness Of You
  4. Beyond Words
  5. Let’s Make Waves
  6. Dreams & Memories
  7. Blues Stay Away From Me
  8. Waiting For The Music
  9. Call The Lamas
  10. Not Afraid To Die
  11. Blaze Of Glory 

Blaze Of Glory is scheduled to be released on May 28, 2013 on TallGirl Records.

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