Beth Nielsen Chapman – Hearts Of Glass
BNC Records – 9 February 2018
As Joan Baez and Mary Gauthier both prepare for UK tours, alongside significant album releases, there’s yet another reason to celebrate the wealth of great female singer-songwriters that visit from across the Atlantic. This month Beth Nielsen Chapman releases her latest album, Hearts of Glass. In a career that’s spanned 40 years, 15 albums and a brace of Grammy nominations Beth has flourished as one of America’s great artists, writing songs that are loved not only by her fans but by other performers too. Trisha Yearwood, Willie Nelson and Mary Chapin Carpenter (to name just a few) have all had success with Beth’s songs; which led to the release of her last solo album, Uncovered, in 2014. In Uncovered she revisited some of those great songs that other artists have enjoyed success with, recording her own versions of them for the first time. We have to go back another two years, to 2012’s The Mighty Sky, for the last time we enjoyed completely new material from Beth. Hearts Of Glass, though, continues the work of both those albums, by again revisiting some unrecorded treasures; presenting some of her own back-catalogue in a new light, and introducing some entirely new songs.
Hearts Of Glass opens with the positive and upbeat Come To Mine, one of two songs on the album that were co-written with other artists. In this case, Beth joined Graham Gouldman and Kevin Montgomery at a songwriting retreat hosted by Chris Difford at Real World Studios. That location may well help explain the warm welcome the song sends forth. There’s an inviting rhythm that tumbles along irresistibly, in a song that very comfortably sits somewhere between pop, country and folk. The other co-write comes from a collaboration with the album’s producer, Sam Ashworth. Sam’s whistled introduction to Enough For Me is a joyful opening for an infectious, upbeat love song with a hint of brass and more than little West Coast influence.
In breaking with her usual recording habits and relinquishing complete control to producer Sam Ashworth, Beth has fostered a new setting for her music, one that offers her engaging lyrics room to breathe. All the songs on the Hearts Of Glass have a fresh, guitar-based arrangement, rather than her more familiar piano. This makes the decision to revisit some of her earlier work a very worthwhile one, and two songs from Beth’s second, eponymous, album make a welcome return. Life Holds On enjoys a more sedate outing, emphasised by an electric guitar like a heartbeat, and warmed by woodwind and brass that frame the poetic lyrics perfectly. From the same album originally, Child Again is an exquisitely gentle song; a beautiful portrait of a dementia sufferer, with a sun-filled chorus, Spencer Cullum Jr‘s pedal steel guitar, and a spine-tingling close. The discordant, plucked waltz and breathy vocal give a softer edge to 1993’s Rage On Rage, and Beth’s gently upbeat banjo on All For The Love (from Deeper Still) helps nurture a more positive air than the original.
Hearts Of Glass includes two entirely new songs, both emphatically reminding us of Beth’s perpetual skill as a songwriter. Epitaph For Love has soft flavours of jazz in the picked acoustic guitar, Jeff Taylor‘s accordion and Sam’s brushed percussion. The gentle key shifts are accentuated by the warmth of Matt Slocum‘s cello in a reflective song about losing and re-finding love. That same accordion, percussion combination adds more colour as enduring love is the topic again for the keyboard-led slow waltz of You’re Still My Valentine. The song also serves as a worthy reminder that after 40 years in the business, Beth’s voice remains as clear, controlled and enthralling as ever.
Also new to Beth’s recordings are two songs of her own that have proved worthwhile for other artists. Old Church Hymns & Nursery Rhymes was originally recorded by Waylon Jennings. A heartening call to the elements opens this gentle song of nostalgia. Although there are some dark memories in there, this song has a smile at its heart.
First recorded by Willie Nelson, If My World Didn’t Have You is, perhaps, the most memorable song on the album. A beautifully picked guitar opens a slightly moribund song of love and companionship, that grows in stature with keyboards, Johnny Duke‘s electric guitar and Rodney Crowell on backing vocals.
Ending with a beginning, Dancer To The Drum provides the perfect conclusion for Hearts Of Glass. Somehow, this ode to the miracle of birth; to the physical, cultural and spiritual DNA we pass on, sounds even more beautiful than it did when it brought Beth’s 1993 album, You Hold The Key, to a close.
In a way, Hearts Of Glass comes to us from three different directions. There’s the continuation of Beth’s excellent 2014 project, Uncovered, where she brings her own songs back home. There are new songs, songs that prove her continuing significance as a modern songwriter. Then there are the new recordings of old favourites, and it’s these songs that hold the key to this album. It’s these songs that highlight just how positive, and creative, was the decision to bring in Sam Ashworth as producer. Trusting Sam so whole-heartedly with production has given Beth herself the flexibility and freedom of expression to focus more effectively on how she delivers those songs. Those old favourites exude a feeling of being back out in the fresh air and loving every minute; the songs we’re hearing Beth sing for the first time shine with a new light.
New albums from Beth Nielsen Chapman seem few and far between, but when they do arrive they’re solid gold. Hearts Of Glass is no exception.
Order Hearts of Glass here: http://smarturl.it/bnc-heartofglass
Beth Nielsen Chapman Upcoming UK Tour Dates
Tuesday, March 6 – Glasgow City Halls
Wednesday, March 7 – Sheffield Sheffield City Hall
Thursday, March 8 – Pocklington, York Pocklington Arts Centre
Saturday, March 10 – Gillingham, Dorset Gillingham School
Sunday, March 11 – Bexhill On Sea, East De La Warr Pavilion
Monday, March 12 – Wavendon, Milton Keynes The Stables
Tuesday, March 13 – Wavendon, Milton Keynes The Stables
Tuesday, March 13 – Wavendon, Milton Keynes Fishbowl Critique Master Classes, The Stables
Thursday, March 15 – Gateshead Quays, Gateshead The Sage (Hall 2)
Friday, March 16 – Gateshead Quays, Gateshead Fishbowl Critique Master Class, The Sage
Sunday, March 18 – Stamford The Stamford Corn Exchange Theatre
Monday, March 19 – Bury Saint Edmunds, Suffolk The Apex
Wednesday, March 21 – Birmingham Town Hall
Thursday, March 22 – London Cadogan Hall
Saturday, March 24 – Liverpool Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Sunday, March 25 – Manchester Royal Northern College of Music
Tuesday, March 27 – Leeds City Varieties
Thursday, March 29 – Bridport, Dorset Electric Palace
Friday, March 30 – Bristol St George’s Bristol
Monday, April 2 – Portaferry Portico Arts Centre
Tuesday, April 3 – Belfast Studio, Waterfront Hall
Thursday, August 2 – Sunday, August 5 – Cambridge Cambridge Folk Festival
For Ticket Links and more details visit: https://bethnielsenchapman.com/tour/