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Folk/Americana - Released February 8, 2019 | Paradise of Bachelors

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When U.K. guitarist and songwriter Michael Chapman released 50, his Paradise of Bachelors debut in 2017, he'd long wanted to make an Americana album. He teamed with PoB stalwarts Steve Gunn, James Elkington, and Jimy Seitang, with longtime associate Bridget St. John lending her gorgeous plaintive vocals in support. Consisting of three new songs and completely revisioned selections from his catalog, it actually sounded (a lot) like he was fronting a rootsy indie rock band. True North couldn't be more of a contrast. This is almost a full-circle return to his earliest years as a recording artist; musically it charts directly from 1969's Rainmaker and 1970's Fully Qualified Survivor. True North couldn't be more organic. Gunn returns as producer, plays lead guitar, and alternates with Chapman on bass and drums (the latter used sparingly at best). Chapman's glorious, innovative, mantra-like fingerstyle playing guides every song, and with the exception of two fine instrumentals -- "Eleuthera" and "Caddo Lake" -- his ravaged, grizzled vocals undergird that authority. Along with Gunn, St. John is present, as is pedal steel legend B.J. Cole and cellist Sarah Smout. These 11 songs are preoccupied with time, its all-too-fleeting passage, uncertainties, betrayals, and the regrets it imposes. Opener "It's Too Late" rumbles into being with a bass-string-accented 12-string played in a minor key. A brooding, slightly menacing spoken-sung lyric looks back at what might have been, but due to concealed choices, can no longer come to pass. Gunn's electric slide chimes in amid cello, atmospheric steel, and the constant, plodding monotone rasp in Chapman's vocal. "After All This Time" is among the most beautiful and wrenching ballads Chapman's ever written. Laced with subtle psychedelic production, strummed acoustic guitars are kissed by hovering keys, lithe cello, and wafting electric guitar, as the lyric expresses tenderness and affirmation with the acknowledgment of life's impermanence. In "Vanity Pride," Chapman's Zen look at history, mystery, regret, and wisdom, are charted in early Brit-folk trappings. "Truck Song" shines as the whole band frames Chapman's searing, poetic lyric with lush accents tempered by rounded edges. The singer's voice becomes its own bassline as he juxtaposes physical apparitions with emotional ghosts. Smout's cello borrows inspiration from Nick Drake's "Hazy Jane I," in the margin, while Gunn and Cole paint the middle in subtle shades of blue. There are modal folk-blues to inform "Hell to Pay," while the set comes full-circle on "Youth Is Wasted on the Young," a drifting paean to mistakes and what's been tragically left undone at the end, as whining reverbed pedal steel, sonant cello, and Chapman's simple strum accent his poignant words. Truth be told, True North is even stronger than the excellent 50. Here Chapman obviously revels in his continued ability to mine the emotional, psychological, and spiritual terrain he did in his younger years as a songwriter, while adding experiential depth to his approach through a lifetime of profound musical development. In an enormous catalog, True North stands straight-up alongside his finest recordings. ~ Thom Jurek
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50

Alternative & Indie - Released January 20, 2017 | Paradise of Bachelors

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In the press release that accompanies Michael Chapman's 2017 album 50, the iconic British guitarist refers to it as his "American album." While the material does sound less idiosyncratically British than much of Chapman's body of work, 50 could be more accurately described as his indie rock album. He's best known as a master of the acoustic guitar, but on these sessions, the dominant instrument is the electric guitar of Steve Gunn, who also produced the sessions. Gunn assembled a band of like-minded musicians whose passions encompass indie rock, experimental rock, and the more abstract corner of Americana, and while Chapman's impassioned vocals ride over the top and his acoustic guitar is audible in the mix, the band doesn't bow to Chapman so much as encourage him to keep up with them. It's significant that six of the ten songs on 50 are numbers Chapman has recorded before, and while the new interpretations are bold and often muscular, these new takes recast the music in a more aggressive and less folkie manner than one might expect from him. If the spotlight seems less tightly focused on Chapman on this album, he certainly sounds engaged with the music, and his vocals on numbers like "The Mallard," "Memphis in Winter," and "Money Trouble" are strong and defiant, bringing his stories of lives along the margins to vivid life. And even though Gunn and his cohorts threaten to steal the show with their folkie but clamorous brand of indie rock, the heartfelt racket summoned by Nathan Bowles, James Elkington, and Jimy Seitang fits Chapman's music better than one might expect. (Besides, venerable U.K. folk singer and songwriter Bridget St. John is on hand to keep Chapman company and contribute vocals.) Chapman is an artist who has never had a problem with upending creative expectations, and if 50 isn't the sort of music many of his longtime fans would expect from him, it's also passionate, literate, and the work of an artist who wants to make the most of his late-era career. Not many artists sound this determined and engaged, especially at the age of 75. ~ Mark Deming

Folk/Americana - Released October 4, 2011 | Tompkins Square

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Miscellaneous - Released August 14, 2017 | NaNa Disc

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Folk/Americana - Released August 25, 2014 | Tree House 44 Records

Folk/Americana - Released September 25, 2015 | Tompkins Square

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One of the most original and respected guitarists on the British folk scene, Michael Chapman has enjoyed a rebirth of interest in his work in the 21st century, with many of his early albums being reissued and his collection of three experimental albums for Blast First Petite receiving enthusiastic reviews. Chapman's 2015 release Fish shows that the venerable guitarist is still playing with a master's touch and a free imagination, creating music that is both beautiful and challenging. Selections include "Jack," "Plain Old Bob Has a Hoe Down," "Stockport Monday (For Tom Rush)," "Nima Lama," "Lament for Napal," and five others. ~ Mark Deming
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Folk/Americana - Released February 1, 2014 | Electric Ragtime

While Michael Chapman has often worked with other musicians on his recordings over the course of his lengthy career, on his 2008 release Time Past Time Passing, only his guitar and voice are heard. The self-produced album is more impressive for the quality of his instrumental work than it is for his occasional vocals -- which almost sound like an afterthought -- and the compositions, all written by Chapman, and none of them appearing on disc prior to this release. The guitar playing is very impressive, and might as a ballpark comparison find favor with fans of John Fahey as it's extremely virtuosic yet fluid and expressive, and a little dark in tone. It's not, it should be emphasized, extremely similar to Fahey, despite the inclusion of a song titled "Fahey's Flag." But there are some similarities in the mood it creates, with its mixture of folk styles (which in Chapman's case take in British folk, blues, and perhaps a bit of ragtime), the richness of the guitar tone, and the sense of placid calm struggling with tense undercurrents. Chapman's singing, which on this disc is a dry sing-speak, doesn't add anything of note, though it doesn't significantly detract, and fits in with the material's overall wistful, slightly resigned feel. Though he's a better singer than Fahey, perhaps at this point it might have been best to, like Fahey, focus virtually wholly on instrumentals that let the guitar do all the talking that's necessary. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 13, 2016 | Paradise of Bachelors

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Alternative & Indie - Released January 5, 2017 | Paradise of Bachelors

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Pop - Released November 29, 2018 | Paradise of Bachelors

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Pop - Released January 25, 2019 | Paradise of Bachelors

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Pop - Released January 4, 2019 | Paradise of Bachelors

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Alternative & Indie - Released November 17, 2016 | Paradise of Bachelors

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