Thursday, October 16, 2008

Beth Nielsen Chapman: Prism: the human family songbook

Prism: The Human Family Songbook

There’s no particular time of year set aside for thinking about matters of the spirit, of course, but with the turning of the seasons and, in the northern hemisphere, the shorter days and changing quality of light that accompanies autumn, it does seem a time for reflection. Not that all the songs on Beth Nielsen Chapman’s Prism: The Human Family Songbook are exactly quiet. God Is In/Goddess In and My Religion will have you thinking, yes, and clapping, stamping, and singing along too, very likely. That Mystery is a song filled with more questions than answers. Many of the songs on Nielsen Chapman’s two disc set are like that, raising questions rather than answering them, suggesting connections rather than divisions. The first disc is filled with original songs she’s written along with a few covers. The second disc comprises hymns in different languages and from varied faith traditions from Sufi to Tibetan to Santeria to Appalachian gospel to Latin hymn to Navajo chant.

Nielsen Chapman’s voice, and her respect for music and faith, are what make a guiding way through the collection. There are resonances in the songs: thoughts about who God is, about asking the hard questions of faith, about waiting for the answers, about thanksgiving, about sorrow. There are also ways in which they are very unalike, and that opens up areas for reflection as well. It is fine music and great singing, too. whether or not you’re interested in the faith aspects. It is a human family songbook. one which make a good soundtrack for a season of reflection, wherever that reflection comes from.

Beth Nielsen Chapman is a Nashville based songwriter whose work has been recorded by artists including Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, and Elton John. She’s seen he own albums chart in the adult contemporary field too. She has ventured beyond mainstream writing, however, and sometimes with surprising results. One of her best known solo albums, Sand & Water, is a collection of songs she created while dealing with her young husband’s unexpected struggle with cancer and his subsequent death, “songs I never thought would make it out the door of my house,” she says. Several years ago she also recorded an album called Hymns, mainly music from the Catholic tradition and most sung it Latin. Prism is an idea she had on her mind for some time, even before working her way through all these things, . Then an encounter with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whom Chapman met when she was asked to sing at a service commemorating 9/11, gave her a key angle about a way link all the ideas and music. “He was talking about the human family,” she says, “ and that just gave me the spark to start up on this again, and to finish it off and get it out there!”

There is an interview I did with Beth Nielsen Chapman about the making of Prism in a recent issue of the in print music magazine Dirty Linen. check the back issue link at the DL site for the issue number and how to purchase.

you may also want to see

Music Road: autumn music, continued

Music Road: sean nos, days of awe, and tradition

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