Marshall Chapman had made plans to finally follow up her
2006 release Mellowicious by
recording a duet album with her good friend, songwriter Tim Krekel. But Krekel
was diagnosed with cancer and passed away last summer. What was meant to be a
joyful musical union of two close friends was suddenly replaced by an album of
loss and memories. We should all be so lucky to have someone as talented as
Marshall Chapman to celebrate our lives after we are gone.
Big Lonesome is
something of a hodge-podge of Krekel -related material, but it hangs together
beautifully. The title track, which they co-wrote, was actually recorded in
1999, but never released until now. It’s an old style country song with a
gentle feel that is easy to imagine sung by Patsy Cline back in 1960. It sets
the tone of loss which permeates the album. This time, though, the song is
actually about Chapman waiting for her husband to return from a trip, so a
happy ending is implied sometime after the song is over.
Two other songs Chapman co-wrote with Krekel are also
highlights. “Sick of Myself” is a charming and whimsical wish for two people
who obviously respect and admire each other to be able to feel exactly what the
other does. Here, it’s sung as a duet with Krekel’s son Jason, who sounds
rather like his father. The other cut closes the album – it’s a live recording
of “I Love Everybody,” a clear fave from Mellowicious.
Here, Chapman and Krekel sing together for the very last time. They sound
enthralled by the simple, catchy chorus they have created. Eventually, the band
kicks in, and the power and the beauty of rock’n’roll itself comes pouring out
of the speakers. No better recording could exist to celebrate the magic of
Krekel’s musical life.
Chapman references this performance in “Tim Revisited,” a
song she sang to Krekel a few days before he died. It’s a stunning song of love
and joy and sorrow: “The last time I sang with Tim Krekel . . . While people
danced like life would never end.” Later in the song, Chapman sings, “If you
were there, then I don’t have to tell you / How we sounded better than the
Rolling Stones.” In notes for the album she has on her website (www.tallgirl.com), Chapman says she had
thought she was being hyperbolic until she actually heard the live recording
being referenced. While they don’t sound better than the Stones, they certainly
sound at least as good, at least for a few minutes.
The rest of the album, for the most part, finds Chapman
going through the stages of grief by creating beautiful, perfectly crafted,
simple songs. “Down to Mexico”
and “Mississippi Man in Mexico”
are mysteriously intoxicating songs inspired by a trip she took to that country
after Krekel was unable to accompany her. The latter song in particular
benefits from some overdubbed multiple guitar lines by the always welcome Will
Kimbrough. “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” is a wonderful song about the
process of recovery from loss. She doesn’t wallow in sorrow, simply states the
facts of loss, and clearly
Two cover songs fit perfectly in the context of the record.
“Going Away Party,” written by the great Cindy Walker and recorded originally
by Bob Wills, is a song about a different sort of loss. Marshall sings it beautifully, embracing the
words and the melody, making sure both are delivered clearly. Her phrasing is
perfect, wringing emotional nuance by emphasizing certain words and notes. Hank
Williams’ classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” has been done to death, but
Chapman makes it fresh by singing it as though she wrote it herself. She’s not
imitating, not acting, just feeling.
One other song deserves mention, since Chapman spends a lot
of time detailing the writing process of “Riding With Willie” in her new book They Came to Nashville (reviewed here). Like “I Love
Everybody,” which immediately follows, this is a celebratory song. It’s not
specifically about Tim Krekel, but it is about the journey of discovery and
connection to joy which makes life worthwhile. When Chapman sings “That’s the
way I like it,” she comes closest to capturing her definition of the meaning of
life – it’s all right there in the details, in the experiences, in the little
moments of pleasure which can be found again and again. Big Lonesome is chock full of them, for even the sadness of loss
reminds us of the beauty that has existed before.
of Myself,” “I Love Everybody,” “Riding With Willie” STEVE PICK