Trainsong: Guitar Compositions 1967-2010
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Audio CD, CD, 21 Feb 2011
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Just as John Fahey and Robbie Basho were belatedly sainted by a slew of avant-garde musicians eager to enrich their experimental fields with old primitive tradition, so the same enclave have reached out to embrace Yorkshire-born minstrel Michael Chapman.
It was Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore – a long-time fan – who arguably provided the catalyst for this unlikely renaissance, interviewing him at length for The Fretboard Journal at the tail end of 2009. During their discussion, the pair mapped out an arc stretching from Chapman’s emergence on the British folk scene in 1967 – where his style was frequently compared to that of players like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn – to his current involvement with the esoteric American underground.
This rich and varied set charts that trajectory, stopping off at different points in the career of this long-unrecognised guitar master for a collection of poignant, melodic instrumentals. Blues, boogie, folk and flamenco are all covered, without any facet seeming out of place. Along the way Chapman offers tribute to a few of his stateside contemporaries with a superb reading of 1974’s Fahey’s Flag, its bottleneck whinny serving as fitting tribute to his old touring partner, while a version of Tom Rush’s Rockport Sunday appears to reference Leo Kottke in its chiming harmonic introduction.
It’s easy to discern the influence of Chapman’s poised and tumbling grace on the latest generation of six-string troubadours, such as James Blackshaw and the late, great Jack Rose. Pieces like Little Molly’s Dream, Ponchatoulah and Trying Times (a requiem for Rose) plunge a procession of cascading notes into the ether like a mountainside waterfall communing with a gleaming pool of dancing eddies – sheer swirls of homespun emotion.
Occasionally, Chapman eschews the acoustic for a raw strain of electrified blues that, on 1996’s Sensimilia, recalls nothing as much as The Durutti Column. It might seem funny, then, that a track called Thurston’s House (written during a stay at the home of the Sonic Youth head honcho while out on tour with New York’s freely-improvising No-Neck Blues Band) is simply another wonderful example of his subtle folk phrasing. Those looking for more visceral thrills will no doubt welcome news of Chapman’s forthcoming noise album for Moore’s Ecstatic Peace imprint.
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I've always loved his songs but wasn't sure that a double CD of primarily solo acoustic guitar would be something that would keep me interested. How wrong.
This is a collection of tunes that span most of his career that he has re-recorded for this release resulting in a sense of this all being a coherent set (as opposed to a "Greatest Hits"). The tunes span a number of genres but for the most part are either folk or blues in origin. However, irrespective of the basic style of any particular track, the reason this works as a whole, for me, is that everything here has a sense of drive/urgency.
If you know MC at all, then trust me, you need this. If you like guitar in general, then you too need this. If you are casual browser then this is definitely well worth a punt.
P.S. I originally posted this as a 4* review, but it has just continued to grow and grow.
The Last Polish Breakfast / Little Molly's Dream / Fahey's Flag / Rockport Sunday / Sunday Morning / Sweet Little Friends From Georgia / Elinkine / New Chord Blues / Uncle Jack - Looking For Charlie / Caddo Lake / Theme From The Movie Of The Same Name / Stranger's Map Of Texas / Slowcoach.
Naked Ladies and Electric Ragtime / Ponchatoulah / Wellington the Skellington / Silverking / Sensimilia / Thurston's House / Thank You PK 1944 / The Coming Of The Roads / Sometimes / Extrabop / Trying Times / Hi Heel Sneakers / La Madrugada.
Other than that, it's an amazing album showing off Michael's guitar prowess.
In the late sixties my serious guitar-playing friends enthused about Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, John Fahey and Davey Graham. I've explored the music of all of these people, and other guitarists such as Jack Rose, Martin Simpson and James Blackshaw, but none of them can achieve the combination of musicality and emotion thst just flows out of Michael Chapman. On this 2-CD album he ranges from Fahey pastiche (or "pisstake" as he translates it on one of his live albums) through dense and resonant (but not imepnetrable) acoustic guitar raga-flamenco work-outs to straight down the line simple but elegant electric playing on "Hi heel Sneakers".
One word of warning to potental UK purchasers or other already converted Chapman enthusiasts - this is virtually the same album as "Words Fail Me Vols 1 and 2" available from Marc Higgins via the Michael Chapman/Plaindealer website. The main differences are an additional track "Slowcoach" (and very good it is too)and some minimal explanations of each track by Michael himself. But for anyone who doesn't own "Words Fail Me", with any interest at all in great guitar playing, buy this - as I say, it's probably the best 2-CD set of guitar instrumentals you'll ever hear in your life!