One of Nashville’s best kept secrets since the mid-’70s deserves far more recognition than she has received. Marshall Chapman was roots Americana before anyone pigeonholed it into a genre. As one of the first women on a major label playing original, Southern based, crackling rock and roll, she broke gender barriers most didn’t realize existed. A high-profile songwriting relationship with Jimmy Buffett didn’t help her profile which led to starting the TallGirl imprint. This is Chapman’s seventh release for her label, 13th overall and one of the finest in a long career.
The album’s confident, easy going but never lazy vibe is the result of working with the same musicians who contributed to 2010’s successful Big Lonesome. Credit goes to keyboardist/co-producer Mike Utley for capturing the textured, spirited and occasionally melancholy feel of these songs. The opening Bo Diddley beat-driven “Love in the Wind,” a duet with the similarly minded Todd Snider, is propelled by a restrained, insistent energy that snakes through the rest of the songs. It’s a cool, swampy, unhurried approach that subtly sucks you in. Now in her mid-60s, Chapman is clearly comfortable in her veteran status skin, which is apparent as she shifts from her own compositions to mesmerizing, assertive and sympathetic covers of Hoagy Carmichael’s standard “Nearness of You” and the Delmore Brothers’ bittersweet country blues classic “Blues Stay Away from Me.”
Elsewhere, “Dreams and Memories,” “Not Afraid to Die” and the title track reveal Chapman’s wistful reflections on life that never descend into sappiness. Lead guitarist Will Kimbrough is a key element in the stripped down sound, propelling the music with an understated strength that perfectly captures Chapman’s sentiments. Her rugged, world-weary voice though is the disc’s most obvious focus. It cracks like the lines in well-worn leather, bringing honesty and integrity to tunes that exude those traits and make this such a vital and potent addition to her already impressive catalog.