REVIEW: Marshall Chapman “Songs I Can’t Live Without” is Delightfully Smoky


Marshall Chapman – Songs I Can’t Live Without  

An always compelling performer & writer, South Carolina’s Marshall Chapman has a long respectable track record. While not as widely known like Joni Mitchell or Lucinda Williams, that shouldn’t deter anyone from the work of this exceptional artist.

“Songs I Can’t Live Without,” (drops May 15 – TallGirl Records), satisfies a bucket list by forgoing writing new songs & focus solely on covers. Her 14th LP & 8th with TallGirl (13 of her LPs were critically acclaimed), Chapman says she all but retired from music. But fate stepped in with producer Neilson Hubbard.

Like Marianne Faithful before her, the covers are inspired, darkly impressive & scintillating. Ms. Chapman bravely opens with a Leonard Cohen classic: “Tower of Song.” With her voice matured & absorbing it’s the whole of the performance that’s impressive. Marshall’s voice is delightfully smoky with a heavy snare lick & swampy instrumentation.

Marshall (rhythm guitar), Will Kimbrough (lead guitar, some bass), Neilson Hubbard (drums, some bass) & Dan Mitchell (keyboards, some bass, flugelhorn).

Marshall maintains atmosphere on Bob Segar’s “Turn the Page.” The quality of the tale unravels as urgent & dramatic as the original. Kimbrough’s guitar weaves mystery with a noir mood & Marshall’s expressiveness sizzles like a lit fuse.

Not captivated by Marshall’s version on first listen to Julie Styne & Sammy Cahn’s “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” – it seemed to drag a little. Marshall’s voice isn’t immediately adaptable to a chestnut like this. However, I was wrong. By the second listen it went deeper. Her sincerity is honest & her vocals adroit. It’s surprisingly excellent on repeated listens.

From a 1944 oldie to a rock & roll one. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” had my ears expecting more pop-oriented Shirelles vocals. So, I was surprised by how well Marshall’s reinterpretation of the Carole King-Gerry Goffin classic was. More closely related to Laura Nyro’s on “Angel In the Dark.” Kimbrough’s slashing guitar adds punctuation to Marshall’s transformative vocal.

The Johnny Cash classic “I Still Miss Someone,” is sung with grace & convincing poignancy. The old Otis Blackwell-Elvis Presley “Don’t Be Cruel,” is a shuffle but the 50s sound is rich, mid-tempo & with old fashion guitars & piano. It frames Ms. Chapman’s exquisite rendition. The Bobby Charles’ “Tennessee Blues,” is tightly constructed & Marshall’s presence is imbued throughout the lyric.

After her take on J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight,” I’d love to hear an entire LP of J.J. Cale covers by Marshall. Her voice is perfectly suited.

The 1927 traditional tune made famous first by Laurie London “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” was never a favorite. Too over the top. But Marshall brings out the spirituality differently & it resonates. It’s Americana.

I hope Ms. Chapman doesn’t entertain thoughts of retiring from recording again. She’s a fine-wine beauty that unlike many can squeeze personality out of her voice along with the song – no matter who writes them.

The 37-minute, 9-track CD is available at Amazon & CD Baby.


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