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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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Serving as both accomplished career overview and a live-in-the-studio effort that covers two and a half hours and over 40 years of work, Trainsong is a seemingly effortless release, such is the apparent delicacy and grace of Michael Chapman's performing throughout. As Charles Shaar Murray's combatively entertaining liner notes acknowledge, Chapman couldn't play at least one favored piece due to a recent injury. What is on offer, however, is the kind of reflective, elegant playing on both acoustic and electric guitar one would expect from any instrumentalist after decades of experience. From the start, the tender flow of notes on "The Last Polish Breakfast," almost a portrait of sunrise on sparkling water, Chapman seems to be both celebrating his past and claiming a space in the present. His brief liner notes on each piece, containing tuning and year of composition, show both the directness of possible inspirations and a sharp sense of humor. One killer one from "Theme from the Movie of the Same Name": "…I decided to write an acoustic guitar disco instrumental. God help me!" Songs like "Uncle Jack/Looking for Charlie" and "Naked Ladies and Electric Ragtime" bring in flat-out merriment -- not surprising in the latter case given that it was titled after what Chapman called an answer to a question about his favorite things back in the 1960s. One of his sprightliest numbers, "Sweet Little Friend from Georgia," is a tribute to the guitar it was written and performed on, a 1963 Gibson. His tributes to fellow performers are among the best -- "Fahey's Flag" has a high, steel guitar twang to it that captures the legendary Blind Joe Death's embrace of the old and distinctive, and its shifts to alternately slower and faster tempos give the feeling of a woozy old turntable. The engaging "Thurston's House" is indeed about a time spent staying with Mr. Moore and Kim Gordon in 2006, while the brisk but still melancholy "Trying Times" is described as a tribute to Jack Rose. Elsewhere, his take on Tom Rush's "Rockport Sunday," evolving through what he calls "the folk process" into his own distinct arrangement, helps to solidify his own clear sound, at once tender and entrancing. ~ Ned Raggett
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Pop - Released November 1, 1995 | Planet Records uk

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Pop - Released March 22, 2010 | Market Square

Michael Chapman is sometimes classified as a folk-rock or even folk singer/songwriter. But by the time this live concert was recorded at the Nottingham Playhouse on July 23, 1977, he'd really transcended those labels and delved into a full-bodied rock sound also influenced by jazz and progressive styles. In that sense, his evolution was somewhat similar to that of fellow British guitarist John Martyn, though the music of those two singer/songwriters isn't too much alike. Recorded in good fidelity, this show has Chapman fronting a trio, bolstered by the rhythm section of noted blues-rock drummer Keef Hartley and Lindisfarne bassist Rod Clements. The material is drawn from several albums Chapman made between the late '60s and mid-'70s, dating back as early as "It Didn't Work Out" (from his debut LP, Rainmaker), though it leans toward his more recent mid-'70s work. Chapman stretches out more than was his wont in the studio -- the ten songs take up nearly 70 minutes -- sometimes engaging in extended instrumental sparring with the other musicians with rapid-flurry, rubbery soloing. There's even a drum solo on "Sea of Wine," and a cover of Booker T. & the MG's' "Time Is Tight" as the finale, though neither of those performances play to Chapman's strong suits. This set doesn't capture the strongest or most definitive performances and interpretations of Chapman's material, owing to the limitations of the trio format and arrangements that don't ideally complement the compositions. But for serious fans, it's worth checking out precisely because these aren't like the most familiar versions, documenting his explorations of a format that was in some senses more stripped-down than others he'd used, though in other respects it was looser and more expansive. ~ Richie Unterberger
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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

Miscellaneous - Released August 14, 2017 | NaNa Disc

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

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 13, 2016 | Paradise of Bachelors

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Pop - Released November 29, 2018 | Paradise of Bachelors

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

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Pop - To be released February 8, 2019 | Paradise of Bachelors

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Pop - Released June 20, 2011 | Market Square

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

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