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Jeff Chapman – Big Jeff’s Blues Vol. 2

Self Release - 2010

11 tracks; 48.52 minutes

Jeff Chapman has been making music in his native Greenville, Illinois since the late 1970’s. He started in country music, added some southern rock and then some blues. He has been performing with his brother Jerry as the Chapman Brothers since 1981 but his blues band is a more recent outlet for his music. This is a second volume of Jeff’s original music, following an earlier Vol. 1 released in 2009. The band on this CD consists of Jeff on vocals and some rhythm guitar, brother Jerry or Sean Harris on lead guitar, Harry Lounsberry on keys, Ian Baird (who also engineered, mixed and mastered the CD) on drums, Bill Baumann on bass and backing vocals.

The songs are well constructed with themes ranging from the fun to the serious. Jeff is not a great singer but has a serviceable voice and the playing on these songs is very good indeed. The hallmarks are catchy tunes, swirling organ and clean guitar lines, immediately embodied on opener “My Baby’s Coming Back To Me” which comes straight at you with a really catchy chorus that you might well find yourself humming on the way to work! “Homecoming Queen” is also a catchy toe tapper with a touch of country in the tune which celebrates the girls at home who are always ready to celebrate the return of their loved ones when they return from ‘the road’.

A more serious note is injected by “Can’t Get Right”, a grim tale of young addicts unable to fight the power of their chosen drugs. The music is still catchy, with both Jerry Chapman and Sean Harris on guitars, but the subject matter is dark indeed: “Started smoking weed, then she went to coke. Spent her whole paycheck working for the dope. No she can’t get right.” “Got To Move” is a slower paced number, introduced by organ before a dramatic drum pattern signals the entry of some nice guitar work and Jeff’s vocal which discusses the subject of needing to get out of a difficult situation where work is tough, pay is low and making ends meet a real challenge. Both these songs manage keep the music enjoyable, thereby attracting casual listeners to the songs and then getting them to appreciate the serious issues raised.

A lighter tone is injected in “Psycho Magnet”, a tall tale of a boy who seems to attract the wrong sort of women: “About two years ago he was lying in bed, sweet baby by his side when the police came and knocked on the door to take her for a ride.” “Sometimes You Gotta Help Yourself” comes on like a Lynyrd Skynyrd outtake with a great guitar riff and a rousing chorus aided by Anastasia Baird on backing vocals. The song encourages us all to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and get out there – and a tune like this might just do the trick!

The centerpiece of the album is “Song For Justin”, a song dedicated to Jeff’s 13 year old cousin who was killed in 1997 and who was the same age as Jeff’s own son. This emotive song was clearly difficult for Jeff to complete but during this recording he managed to do so and it is an excellent song, the sad story being sympathetically treated by striking lead guitar and lap steel, as well as an expanded choir (The Circle Of Friends). An example of the lyrics shows the difficult nature of the song: “It ain’t right, it ain’t fair, how could anyone be so cold. There’s too many helpless victims, can’t you see the fear in their eyes? Doesn’t anybody hear their cries?” This is a wonderful song that deserves a wide audience.

After that we need to again lighten the tone and “Thinkin’ About Drinkin’” fits the bill perfectly. Lyrically something of a relative of “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” this is an amusing take on the attractions of the demon drink. “How I Live” is a slower tune, with its sad tale: “Sun shining on the outside, everything looking fine. See it’s raining on the inside, that’s how I live my life.” Harry Lounsberry’s organ takes a solo here, followed by some more quality soloing from Sean Harris.

“Last Night” takes us back up tempo, both musically and lyrically, a gentle song about having a good night out with friends. The CD closes with “Never Too Late”, a slow blues which tells the tale of wasted time and finding redemption: “Don’t give up, son, just go on and try. It’s never too late to start over, you find yourself wondering why oh why? It’s never too late to start over, sometimes in life you just got to try.” It’s a fine end to this excellent CD.

I knew absolutely nothing about Jeff Chapman when I put this CD on my player, but now I will keep a lookout for Vol. 1. Both CDs are available from CD Baby. Sadly I suspect that my chances of seeing Jeff live in the UK are not great but I would suggest that those of you who are not aware of Jeff and his music check him out as soon as possible.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.

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