Few musicians hold off until they’re well past the official retirement age before creating their masterpiece. Michael Chapman may just have done that with the spellbinding 50, named in recognition of both the number of years the 75-year old has frequented the road and the approximate number of releases in his marathon back catalogue. The Leeds-born guitar alchemist and songwriter hasn't always had the smoothest of rides.
An American record with a gruff Yorkshire burr at its heart takes nerve to pull off. But, throughout his five decades of recording and touring, veteran guitarist and songwriter Michael Chapman has resolutely ploughed his own furrow through the strictures of folk song and abstraction. From the raggedness of early Harvest label classics such as Rainmaker and Fully Qualified Survivor, to more recent experimental outings like metallic drone masterpiece The Resurrection And Revenge Of The Clayton Peacock and the acutely minimalist Pachyderm, Chapman has remained steadfastly himself.
50 serves a number of roles in Michael Chapman’s gargantuan catalog, which encompasses nearly that many albums. As the title suggests, it is a commemorative album, in this case marking half a century as a performing artist. In 1966, the young guitar player finagled his way into a show at a Cornwall jazz club, an unknown talent who turned his audition into a residency.
In the press release that accompanies Michael Chapman's 2017 album 50, the iconic British guitarist refers to it as his "American album. " While the material does sound less idiosyncratically British than much of Chapman's body of work, 50 could be more accurately described as his indie rock album. He's best known as a master of the acoustic guitar, but on these sessions, the dominant instrument is the electric guitar of Steve Gunn, who also produced the sessions.
The Upshot: Five decades on, the guitar virtuosos revisits worn-in groves and tests some new ones, demonstrating his resonance with a younger generation of folk interpreters while showcasing a connection with a contemporary icon. Michael Chapman celebrates 50 years of making music and touring here, dusting off some old songs, writing a few new ones, and inviting a gang of new jack American Primitives (Steve Gunn, Nathan Bowles, James Elkington, Jimmy SeiTang) and one 1970s folk contemporary (Bridget St. John) from the admirers’ circle into the studio.
Michael Chapman—50 (Paradise of Bachelors)Michael Chapman’s never been a guy to get too fancy, and he’s not going to start now. This album, whose release date falls half a week before his 76th birthday, signals 50 years of making a living with his guitar and some songs. To celebrate the occasion, he’s indulged in a bucket list project — to make an album in America with an American band.Quite sensibly, he did it with people who have toured and jammed with him, and along the way have showed plenty of empathy for what he does.