Jon Chapman – Washed Up on the North Shore

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5

Jon Chapman’s second CD shows a marked maturity both in his song writing and musicianship, as well as highlighting his credentials as an arranger and most importantly, for the purposes of posterity that is, his abilities behind the production desk.  Washed Up on the North Shore takes no effort in getting into; the songs are instantly accessible, but that isn’t to say they are lacking in depth in any way, they are just constructed in the manner of most good pop music, to be easy on the ear.  The mandolin driven opener “Still Sailing” welcomes us into Jon’s world with a guiding hand on the back and a broad friendly smile.  There’s almost a glass of the good stuff offered into our hands as we cross the threshold, it’s one of those openers.  Better still, the rest of the album makes us want to stay for the party.  The Brian Wilson influenced pop that Jon has been both listening to with much attention to detail, and fully absorbing like a sponge over the past few years couldn’t help but manifest itself in these few songs.  “It’s Funny” has a distinct West Coast feel, complete with astonishingly tight harmonies and wait a minute, is that a Theremin in there or is it just my imagination?  It would be easy (or should that be “unimaginably difficult”?), to fall into the trap of doing a Pet Sounds pastiche, but Jon manages to balance the endless summer harmonies with cool evening love songs that provide the flip side of the musical coin.  When I first heard a demo of “Lose It All” I was hard pushed to take my mind off Steely Dan for a moment, a wonderfully laid back arrangement with harmonies that couldn’t be further from Wilson’s trademark good vibrations. This is as soulful as it gets.  Jon has always been adept at writing good love songs and “I Still Want You” is a completely gorgeous example of how to do it right.  Not only would it grace any post Style Council Paul Weller set, it would probably even measure up to “You Do Something to Me” if that’s not being slightly too generous.  The one thing I have always loved about Jon’s voice is its frailty.  It takes a certain kind of voice to pull off a good love song, and in many cases a frail voice works best.  Gram Parson’s “Hot Burrito #1” springs to mind as a good example.  There are still traces of Jon’s frailty in these songs but it’s equally more assured and assertive when it needs to be.  “Spaceman” is a good pop song, a song that would normally be picked out as the radio single from such a collection as this, the one that would also have a nice whimsical video made by Michel Gondry.  Why on earth the opening few bars remind me of early acoustic Led Zeppelin I have no idea, but they do.  The even balance of acoustic and slide guitar, underpinning some fine vocal harmonies together with a memorable guitar hook make for all the essential ingredients required for that three minute pop song cleverly designed to interrupt Wogan’s seemingly endless morning drivel.  “Wasting My Time” touches on The Byrds territory and quite effortlessly conjures up the West Coast sound of another era.  At the very mention of the name, I am eager to note that during this name dropping festival of a review, Jon never for a moment loses his own identity throughout this album.  It may sound Byrd-like, but it remains distinctly Jon Chapman.  Just as “Wasting My Time” settles into a Byrd-groove, out pops one of the best guitar solos I’ve heard for a good while.  I suspect this comes courtesy of Ben Trott, a fine young guitarist whose accompaniments have been part of Jon’s live work for the past couple of years.  Jon’s multi-layered vocal harmonies are so tastefully arranged as to make you hunger for several Jon clones in order to pull this album off live.  No better example than on the beautiful “Just a Shadow”.  It reminds me of the work Elliott Smith put into his treatment of the Lennon McCartney classic “Because” for the end credits of the film American Beauty.  The harmonies have that sort of intensity.  If the standard of song writing, arrangement, and general musicianship wasn’t enough for me to be pleased with the insanely cheap asking price for this online download, then the production on “My Love” most definitely is.  This is Jon Chapman coming of age as a producer.  The arrangement is both delicate and assured.  It has all the ingredients that normally delight this reviewers ears; crystal clear acoustic guitar, cello (courtesy of Kim Osmundsvaag), percussion that comes in when you least expect it (Calder McLaughlin), and of course, vocal harmonies to die for.  Over-praise is normally the kiss of death for an aspiring artist and one is reluctant to say more than is necessary to get the point across, but I feel the time has come for Jon to give up whatever he is doing during the day and concentrate on this.