Let me pose a question. How can anyone write a review of a new Michael Chapman CD without using the word ‘underrated’? The answer? Just add ‘criminally’ in front of it and hope that no one notices.
The criminally underrated English guitar legend Michael Chapman has just released his latest album, Time Past Time Passing. If you are not yet familiar with the self proclaimed white blues man from Yorkshire, this CD provides as good a place as any to put that right.
Michael is spoken of in the same breath as Bert Jansch, Wiz Jones, Richard Thompson, or Davy Graham. In fact, when he arrived on the scene he played alongside the likes of the late great Nick Drake, and the legends that are John Martyn, and Roy Harper. His acoustic guitar playing is, and always has been, a revelation. He is without doubt one of the great guitar innovators and has released over twenty wonderful examples underlining this claim since coming to notice in 1967.
Perhaps his best known albums were all released on the Harvest label. Rainmaker, Wrecked Again, Millstone Girl, Americana I & II, and Fully Qualified Survivor. The latter featured guest Mick Ronson (David Bowie, Ian Hunter, Bob Dylan) and the bass of Rick Kemp (Steeleye Span). Michael has been promoting the album Time Past Time Passing (Electric Ragtime Records) on some US dates and has been receiving predictably enthusiastic reviews.
Retreating away from the world, Michael locked himself into the Phoenix Studio a stone’s throw from Hadrian’s Wall. It proved the perfect location and as a result he has produced some of his best work yet: just Michael, a guitar, and some self written songs. Time Past Time Passing is a joyous and highly satisfying mix of folk, blues, and instrumental pieces.
Opening with “Stranger’s Map Of Texas/The Twisted Road”, he displays all the spellbinding intricacy that underlines the man’s unbelievable guitar playing. He is, quite simply, a master, and no, that isn’t too strong a term. When his world worn, yet warming voice enters you know he has a story to tell. If you are looking for a style try a shade of John Prine but with an even more extraordinary depth and complexity to the guitar.
“Sometimes” has more world weary observations on life gained, no doubt, through the experience of over forty years on the road. Uplifting, it is classic Michael Chapman. “Fahey’s Dance” is a joyous slide blues. “Ponchatalla” is another pristine instrumental of the sort that would have some selling their soul at the crossroads to be able to replicate.
“Dewsbury Road/That Time Of The Night” is a simply gorgeous piece. Deeply reflective many of us can identify with the line ‘you know I don’t scare easy but I do get scared’. “Little Molly’s Dream” is another truly luscious instrumental piece played as near flawlessly as ever. “In The Valley” has an intricate introduction to a near spoken piece that simply mesmerizes.
The beautiful “Caddo Lake” flows smoothly and atmospherically. Likewise with “Memphis In Winter” which has a darkness despite its ringing guitar. It is the definition of melancholic cynicism. Sadly with songs such as this, you quickly realise that what he says, is what he has seen.
The instrumental blending of “Silverking/Dust Devils” lifts the spirits. The chiming guitar of “Vanity & Pride” brings the album to a strangely unfinished ‘finish’ that seems to challenge you not to start the process off again.
There is an extraordinarily magical intimacy to this album, like he is seated in your house with just a few friends and a bottle or two of wine. Self produced, the album has an honesty and integrity that is truly refreshing in this over dubbed, re-mastered, download age of condensed ‘perfection’. If it is perfection you are looking for, then start with acoustic guitar playing like this.
That guitar playing has amazed and entertained people for a long time and will continue to do so on Time Past Time Passing. I would give almost anything to play like that just once in my life. However, a trip to the crossroads is really not such a great long-term plan, so I’ll make do with listening to the master himself, Michael Chapman.
Journey with Michael Chapman on his official website. Better still get to see him live – the dates are on the above link.