It's much rarer still to follow it with an even stronger record that sounds totally distinct from its predecessor. Sparse, sombre and often sublime, True North does just that. It's hard to talk of a comeback when the artist in question never actually went away. However, 50 was the most high profile recording Michael Chapman had been involved in since the Leeds-born guitar alchemist swapped major labels for albums released on tiny imprints and acknowledged only by the faithful few in the late '70s.
When U.K. guitarist and songwriter Michael Chapman released 50, his Paradise of Bachelors debut in 2017, he'd long wanted to make an Americana album. He teamed with PoB stalwarts Steve Gunn, James Elkington, and Jimy Seitang, with longtime associate Bridget St. John lending her gorgeous plaintive vocals in support.
To hear Michael Chapman for the very first time can be a confounding experience. The British progressive-folk statesman's music is hypnotic, elaborate, sentimental; any cushy description feels facile, pointless— Chapman's 40-plus album discography consists of enchanting guitar craftsmanship that's too dense to be considered American Primitive, too complex to be folk, too rustic to come close to jazz. Instead, Chapman picks and pulls from the aforementioned styles of choice and creates a mixture that results in pungent, earthy progressive folk music that's erudite and literary in its nature without sounding overly cultivated or stuffy— his music breathes and flows, winding witticisms and meandering, open-tuned voyages into the primitive-acoustic ether.
The British folk guitarist Michael Chapman has spent at least half a century writing and singing about age, regret, and longing. On "An Old Man Remembers," from his third album, 1970's Window, he presciently offers, "An old man is lost in his dreams/As he waits for the fruit of his schemes." Even then, young Chapman sensed the span of time--how quickly the present morphs into past, how laden it becomes with memories. Now, at 78, he's caught up in number to the old soul he's often inhabited in song.
Michael Chapman cites an unexpected influence for his latest recording, naming the Jimmy Giuffre 3 performance of "The Train and the River" from the 1960 film Jazz on a Summer's Day as one of his touchstones. The clip, taken from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, captures Giuffre on clarinet, along with Bob Brookmeyer on trombone and Jim Hall on guitar, playing in a blues-based but free-ranging synchronicity. Giuffre is widely credited as a precursor to free jazz, since, though traditionally grounded, he encouraged an unusual amount of improvisation among his players.