If you like well-crafted music for grown-ups, she's not to be missed.
Sue Keogh 2004-06-08
Listening to Beth Nielsen Chapman is like listening to any Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kate Campbell or Sarah McLachlan record; it's your older, more sensible sister talking. When she wants to let her hair down it doesn't feel right somehow, as if she's going partying for the first time after years of humdrum married life and turns up feeling awkward and overdressed. But the joy of being a respected and versatile songwriter like Chapman is that she can offer her music to the cream of Nashville's female talent and keep the ones more suited to her deep, mature voice for herself. In this way, the infectious Latin beats of the girlish ''Free'' would work well in the mouth of a young, pop artist such as Jessica Andrews, in the same way that a fresh-faced Faith Hill turned ''This Kiss'' into a worldwide hit.
Where Chapman really comes into her own is on the emotive, poignant stuff. And, sadly, she hasn't had to look very far for source material. The Sand And Water album was written following the death of her husband from cancer in 1994; the title track touched Elton John so much that he plays it on tour to commemorate Diana, Princess of Wales, in place of ''Candle In The Wind''.
Then, when putting the finishing touches to the follow up album, Deeper Still, the disease came back to haunt Chapman and she spent twelve difficult months being treated for breast cancer. She used her position to speak out about the illness, keeping a web log on her website to demystify the process of chemotherapy, taught in workshops about dealing with grief and urged women in her audiences to be vigilant about their health. And of course songwriting became an even more cathartic experience.
As such it is the ballads that are more suited to the depth of her voice and experience and there are plenty to choose from here; ''I Find Your Love'' (also found on the Calendar Girls soundtrack), the metaphor heavy ''Who We Are'' and the title track, which could turn into ''Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas'' at any given moment. Songwriting partner Annie Roboff is by her side again, as well as Michael McDonald, to add an extra element of warmth to the vocals.
But near the end of the album - when on ''Your Love Stays'' the keyboards, sax and strings are discarded in favour of Dobro (Dan Dugmore), bass (Viktor Krauss) and the sweet harmonies of Chapman and her son Ernest - it becomes sweet and simple and all the more poignant for it. This feeling is continued on to the next track, ''The Reason'', a David Wilcox collaboration which, with its minor key and imagery of stormy seas, is gentle, sparse and moving.
Chapman is touring this June, with Darren Hayes-alike Darden Smith in tow. If you like well-crafted music for grown-ups, she's not to be missed.