wears the trousers magazine

beth nielsen chapman: back to love (2010)
February 9, 2010, 9:04 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , ,

Beth Nielsen Chapman
Back To Love •••

Texan singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman had an eventful 2009. Last Spring, while writing the songs that were to form this, her eighth studio album, she discovered she had a benign but fast-developing brain tumour, for which she underwent successful surgery. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that a real sense of life affirmation pervades this wholly pretty and ultimately optimistic record. Though perhaps best known as an adult contemporary country writer, Nielsen Chapman’s own voice possesses quite considerable beauty; it’s not the most distinctive instrument but it is unfailingly strong and clear, and it’s her warm and honeyed tones that provide the main draw for Back To Love‘s gentle musings on life. And there is a real joy to proceedings as she allows some of her laughs and giggles to remain in the final mix.

The arrangements and production throughout are pleasant and tasteful and the writing is mainly in the vein of classic adult contemporary (with less emphasis on country here). The attractive, familiar chord progressions and instrumentation may err too heavily on the side of convention but there’s no denying the skills of the musicians on board. Back To Love features such soft-rock luminaries as renowned keyboardist Benmont Tench and Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers (and Steely Dan’s ‘Peg’), and as such it retains a throwback flavour that is never less than pleasing to the ear. This nostalgic vibe emerges on opener ‘Hallelujah’ and continues on the jaunty ‘I Can See Me Loving You’, where the male–female vocal harmonies converge beautifully. ‘More Than Love’ is a sprightly rocker complete with handclaps and electric guitar licks, while the acoustic guitar-based ‘I Need You Love’ finds Nielsen Chapman in deeper, richer voice.

Elsewhere, much of the material is more low-key and intimate. ‘Even As It All Goes By’, despite some clichéd lyrics, is one of the high points; quieter and more subtle than some of the more standard AC pop/rock fare, it finds Nielsen Chapman in fine form. Her voice is particularly stunning on the album’s closing run of slow, thoughtful numbers. The piano-based ‘I’ll Give My Heart’ has a bell-like clarity, while ‘Shadows’ impresses with its elegance and grace. ‘Peace’, meanwhile, is an intimate and emotional piano ballad with an almost hymnal, gospel quality befitting some of her recent religious output. By the time the album ends with ‘The Path of Love,’ it’s been a while since there’s been an injection of anything approaching foot-tapping, but sequencing aside, it’s perhaps a fitting conclusion.

Back To Love is not perfect by any means (the abundance of cheesy, schmaltzy strings put paid to that) and it’s not a record that is going to wow with its intensity and unbridled passion, but it’s a solid, comfortingly orthodox affair and an enjoyable listen from a consistent songwriter and brilliant singer.

Matt Barton
UK release date: 25/01/10; www.myspace.com/bethnielsenchapman


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