More years ago than I care to remember I used to hear the occasional track from Michael Chapman played on the radio. Somehow, over the intervening decades he slipped off my radar…entirely my fault and almost certainly to my detriment. Fish, a collection of guitar instrumentals, is the latest of Mr. Chapman’s forty or so releases. As a reviewer, and guitar player, it is somewhere around here that you start to have doubts, feel a tinge of inadequacy creeping in. Deep breath, say to yourself ‘…everything on its merits’ and begin.
The opening track Plain Old Bob has a Hoe Down settles you, beckoning you into the album with some slide guitar and what becomes a six minute plus smile. Shifting easily between slide and straight licks Chapman melds John Fahey with what sounds a bit like Johnny Horton’s ‘Joe’s Been a Gettin’ There’. The whole track has an improvised feel…play a line, chase it and see what comes next. In short, as an opener, I loved it. But this is an album with light and shade, not just a random collection of tunes.
Track one’s romp is followed by Lament for Nepal. Bracketed by small bells at the beginning and end, a sequence of slow arpeggios with subtle changes suggests some form of stately movement, be it dance, ritual procession or whatever comes to mind. The whole track is redolent of dignity and respect. Wrytree Drift, named for a filled-in drift mine near Chapman’s home, has a similar feel but with perhaps more melancholy. The tune sounds like a minimalist blues.
As I said earlier, this is an album of light and shade but these changes are not necessarily abrupt. This Reminds Me of You, which follows Wrytree Drift, changes the mood from melancholic to nostalgic. Whatever or whoever is involved in the creation of this tune is patently remembered with fondness.
It is common to find references on the web to Chapman’s fondness for Tom Rush’s tune ‘Rockport Sunday’ and, sure enough, Stockport Monday is dedicated to Rush. The track drags the listener out of the comfort created by This Reminds Me of You from the opening moments of its six and a half minutes. By half way through we are listening to strummed chords left to ring like artillery under a sad cello. The mood is lightened by the following track Jack.
Vanity and Pride is an arrangement of a 19th century American hymn which is also known as ‘At Calvary’. There is a loose connection between this and the following track Ehud, in that the story of the Judge Ehud entails an episode of gory regicide found in the Bible. The track itself is dark and, to me, has something of Michael Hedges about it. For the curious the full story is in Judges 3:12-30; personally I used Wikipedia. March Rain which follows is the perfect antidote.
The closing track Nima Lama takes us back to Nepal. The track is named for a trekking guide and manages to convey both a sense of onward movement and the dignity heard in Lament for Nepal.
Throughout this beautifully constructed album you can hear occasional string squeaks, fretting noise and body knocks making it a delightfully un-sanitised recording. Noises off don’t really matter when you’re listening to a master guitarist completely at ease with his playing.
Review by: Nick Dellar