It’s the sound of Beth Nielsen Chapman but not quite as we know it on her latest album ‘CrazyTown’. The acclaimed singer-songwriter has, in her own words, “let go more on this record than I ever have before”. The result sees a merry band of musicians accompanying her throughout, given the freedom to flesh out her sound in such a way as to capture a very different side to Beth. In one sense, it is far from the usual reflective, highly acoustic numbers we are used to hearing. Nevertheless, her lyrical genius remains amidst the classic blues-rock that arches over this album to make it one that is full of vigour and a highly entertaining listen.
Opening track ‘All Around the World’ hits the ground running, with a deftness of touch that finds it harking back whilst being rooted in the now in terms of its sound. There is a slight retro feel to it, as there is with others on the album, like ‘Pocket of My Past’ and ‘Dancin’ with the Past’. They have a folk-pop vibe similar to Beth’s contemporary Suzanne Vega, and as such embrace a toe-tapping rhythm alongside a clear vocal delivery. The music always serves the words. It certainly does on ‘Put a Woman in Charge’, a call for female leadership in a world that has been exploited by the ownership of men. We need those “sisters of mercy now”, Beth declares, over a backing choir of gospel blues that lifts the message of this song to inspiring heights. It paves the way for the celebratory ‘Hey Girl (We Can Deal With It)’ later on which really champions women to hold their own, and each other, in the face of adversity and challenge. The blues that underpins it, full of attitude and sass, only pushes its anthemic chorus further out for all the world to hear.
‘With Time’ pulls back on the surround sound to concentrate fully on the songwriting of Beth Nielsen Chapman. It is a gently musing ballad whose piano carries her thoughts on the passing of time with great weight and poignancy. Lament and hope are fused together beautifully in its lyrics which meander through the bold notes like a river through fields of green. The chorus line is simple but uplifting – “still there’s a lot of life to live… of love to give” – and this is certainly made clear in the soft country-rock of ‘The Truth’ and the blistering arrangement of ‘The Universe’. The first celebrates the solid and steadfast nature of its subject matter, and could be seen as a companion piece to ‘Come to Mine’ from the ‘Heart of Glass’ album. The second goes even further to marvel at the whole of creation, and is nothing short of inspiring.
Following both these songs is ‘The Edge’, a heartrending track that brings it back to the personal. Written about losing her first husband to cancer, its solemnity is touched by the beauty of the guitar to become a way of not only expressing grief but moving through it too. That sense of journeying is a theme that spreads across the whole album, making melancholic closer ‘Walk You to Heaven’ the perfect fit. Inspired by the late John Prine, this has his fingerprints all over it, from the wistful sound of the vocal with guitar to the captivatingly beautiful lyrics. It is classic Beth Nielsen Chapman in many ways, showing that she is still at the top of her songwriting game. ‘CrazyTown’ manages to showcase this in a new way though, and does so to great acclaim.
‘CrazyTown’ is out on September 23rd. To celebrate the release, Rough Trade have a signed exclusive coloured edition of the album which can be pre-ordered here. Beth will be returning to the UK in October for a 20-date tour, tickets for which can be bought here.
Review written by Gareth Williams (twitter.com.lostinbluejazz1)