“Rug Burn Music for Sexagenarians”: Marshall Chapman’s Blaze of Glory
On the title track of her new album, “Blaze of Glory,” Marshall Chapman acknowledges that she “never intended to make it this far/never had a fall-back plan/I always thought I’d go out in a blaze of glory.” And, while she’s had plenty of opportunities to burn out over the years—including the time during her early years in Nashville where her hair caught fire one night at Billy Joe Shaver’s house—she’s instead blazed a hot trail through her life. Since the release of the album, Chapman has been inducted into the Spartanburg Music Trail, an open-air musicians’ hall of fame in Chapman’s hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, and played to sold out crowds at the Chapman Cultural Center in Spartanburg and Nashville’s Bluebird Café. These days, Chapman’s a fire that can’t be put out, leaving her mark as an author of two books (Goodbye Little Rock and Roller and They Came to Nashville), a producer of musical theater (she and Matraca Berg wrote songs for Good Ol’ Girls, a play adapted from the fiction of Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle, and the four women have taken the show on the road, performing it at various book festivals and other venues), and she’s burning up the charts with her new release.
After Big Lonesome, her 2010 album celebrating and eulogizing her dear friend and musical soulmate Tim Krekel, Chapman says, “I wasn’t sure I had it in me to make another album; I thought at the time that this was my best work.” Also, she says, “I was tired. We did that record ourselves, and even though we ended up making money on it, I was tired and didn’t know if I wanted to do it again.”
A time of renewal in Mexico—”it’s as close to my spiritual home as I’ll ever find”—inspired Chapman to write a bunch of new songs and gather the same musicians—Mike Utley on keyboards, Will Kimbrough on lead guitar, Jim Mayer on bass, and Casey Wood on drums—to make the new album. Chapman’s old friend, Todd Snider, joined her for a rousing call-and-response duet called “Love in the Wind.” “This was magic,” Chapman says; “everybody just picked up where we left off. We were just sitting in the house playing; most of these songs were recorded on the first take and in the order in which they were written. It was all very organic.” She adds, “I also learned how to add some range to my vocals. I’ve never been able to reach the high notes in the ways that I’ve been able to do on “Love in the Wind” and “I Don’t Want Nobody.”
Chapman describes her new album as “rug burn music for sexagenarians.” “Since I’m in my 60s, I wanted to find a word named that age; I knew there was ‘octogenarians’, for 80-year, but when I found ‘sexagenarians’ I was thrilled. How could you not like a word that begins with ‘sex’?” And the songs are as sultry and seductive enough to heat up any night with your lover. Chapman wrote many of these in Mexico where she says, “I had convinced myself my muse lived down there. I was living deep at the time; it was great for my songwriting, but it was hell on my marriage.” Chapman describes “Love in the Wind,” for instance, as “there’s being in love with someone, and there’s being in love with the way you feel around someone; sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.” On “Beyond Words,” the singer discovers “how foolish to think/All this was behind me/Feeling this way/Beyond words.” It’s not long, though, before this wordless can’t-get-close-enough-to-you feeling develops into an overwhelming desire to let the “ocean of love inside me” wash over her. In the choogling “Let’s Make Waves,” which Chapman wrote with Shannon Wright shortly after Chapman returned from Mexico, the singer urges her lover that “love can’t be a sin/When it’s made by me and you/Let’s make waves, baby, waves, baby, waves.”
For me, Chapman says, “love is that place where stories and songs meet. All you have to do is love. Writing gets very cosmic for me.” “Waiting for the Music,” which serves as a kind of bridge between the slow-burn torch songs of the first part of the album and the more introspective, spiritually-inflected songs of the second part, was a lifesaver, Chapman says. “If I hadn’t written this at the time I wrote it, I would have died some sort of spiritual death. This song saved my life, and my marriage.”
We’re damn fortunate Marshall Chapman didn’t burn out and mighty lucky that she continues to burn down the house and sweep out the ashes in the morning. The best way to listen to Blaze of Glory? “Turn out the lights, light some candles, drink some wine, and cuddle on the couch with your lover.”
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