Michael Chapman, “True North” (Paradise of Bachelors)
If John Bonham called his drumsticks “trees,” Michael Chapman must have cables on his acoustic guitar instead of strings. Like Bonham’s booming but graceful play, Chapman’s tones are thick and elegant and provide his songs with a ringing, rich emotional heft.
“True North” is the Englishman’s second album in a row admirably produced by Steve Gunn and, similarly to “50,” its 2017 predecessor, offers a few new tracks, fresh takes on several older ones and a pair of instrumentals shining the spotlight on his sizable guitar skills.
Including such gems as “Fully Qualified Survivor” and “Savage Amusement,” Chapman’s discography is extensive, including fascinating instrumental albums, and he’s revisited his own songs before, but the re-workings here should satisfy even the most fanatical connoisseurs of his catalog.
The arrangements are usually more stripped down and the splintered patina of the 78-year-old Chapman’s weathered voice makes already magnetic songs like “Vanity & Pride,” ”Hell to Pay” and “Youth Is Wasted on the Young” even more irresistible.
Pedal steel legend B.J. Cole, who first recorded with Chapman in the 1970s, adds excellent accompaniment, as do Sarah Smout on cello and Bridget St John, another Chapman acolyte from way back, on vocals. Gunn plays guitar and percussion.
The gravity of St John’s voice often matches Chapman’s but also offers a more melodic contrast. On “Bluesman” — one of the new tracks — and “Full Bottle, Empty Heart,” her contributions are especially crucial, while her lines on “After All This Time,” about an old relationship that left its mark on both partners, could be from a revitalized Marianne Faithful.
The Earth’s magnetic north may be moving at increasing speed, but once you’re honed in on “True North” you won’t want to shift your attention anytime soon.