Based in Bristol and describing herself as a sinner songwriter, having made her solo recording debut with the 'Hymns of Shame' EP in 2005, this is Chapman's third full length album and opens in sterling form with 'Good Luck Song', a simple almost hymnal six-minute grand piano ballad embellished with strings, brass and woodwind melody, one verse featuring the words good luck sung in nine languages, Swahili and Welsh among them, her clear pure voice putting me in mind of Julie Gold while the song itself recalls Jimmy Webb's 'All I Know'.
The mood remains temperate throughout, enfolding emotional intensity within the melodies and words, Home Fires another piano and strings ballad, here about childhood memories, the changing seasons, home and continuing the cycle of life, a passing of the flame theme that's picked up on 'Generation Next', a folk-roots styled number about and inspired by the aspiring young musicians moving up Bristol's musical ranks and to whom she will eventually give way. But, if that talks of transition, then 'Settle Down' is a mid-tempo waltzer swathed in violin, cello and double bass about what it says on the label with its reference to falling love and getting married.
Not everything draws on autobiography, 'I Used To Own An Empire' is an anthemic strings and piano near five-minute epic reminiscence of an old England and the 'band of brothers' who built it, whether that be mighty railways or local cafes, undercut by observations of decline, be it Thatcher's dismantling of the mining industry or the Costamongering tide, as well as a pointed final line about the sunset of Empire and how "if you steal something and hand it back then you get all the praise."
A more specific historical reference comes with 'Idilia Dubb', a plaintive, moody pathos-drenched number sung in the persona of the titular 17-year-old Edinburgh girl who allegedly became trapped in and starved to death in an abandoned castle while vacationing in Germany in 1851 with her parents, recording her slow demise in a diary subsequently published by her friend after the body was found.
Another lengthy track, the pulsing, gradually swelling and dramatic 'The Decalogue 'has an almost gothic tone with its unbeliever narrator defying death and, in almost chant delivery, declaring how they've broken all of the ten commandments. The penultimate track, 'There's A Storm Coming' takes a musical swerve for a dose of apocalyptic gospel blues that features just Chapman vocal, multitracked on the self-harmonising chorus, backed by just itchy percussion.
It ends on the album's sole cover, a six-minute muted piano, cello and violin reading of Tom Waits' 'Tom Traubert's Blues' that fits beautifully with her own reflective and heart yearning songs. Surprisingly, reviews of the album have to date been very thin on the ground and it might perhaps have been a better idea to hold off the release until the start of 2018 when critics are looking forward rather than compiling retrospective best of lists. A place on which it most assuredly deserves.
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