Beth Nielsen Chapman – Hearts of Glass

Album Review | BNC Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Beth Nielsen Chapman has one of the great ballad voices in music and this album really proves that. There are some up tempo stormers on this her latest album, “Come to Mine” and “Enough for Me” crackle with up tempo radio friendly sparkle, but Beth really shines on the slower numbers where her voice just smoulders and shines. Tracks like “Old Church Hymns and Nursery Rhymes” and “Rage on Rage” shimmer with emotion as her beautiful voice draws every nuance out of the lyric. Melancholic Noir, Country Torch Songs, Beth breathes the words and everything glows like burning embers, infused with emotion and a smouldering power. Paired with a Pump Organ or beautifully picked guitars, she inhabits the lyrics like a glove. The world of dry deserts, old front porch swings, drinkers and the people that forgive them, of holding on and the sound of sirens. It’s a world mined by the best of contemporary Country Music, but Beth Nielsen Chapman weaves those seductively melancholic stories with mastery and perfect balance. This is an intimate album, the layered guitars on “Epitaph for Love” or the stroked electric piano on “You’re Still My Valentine” and the perfect layered choir of vocals are soft, crooned, to draw you in. There is beauty and poise in every note and when she roars there is a huge power too. Like k.d. lang she can kill you with the subtle cadence of her quiet or slay you with the emotion of her huge held notes. Hearts of Glass features several gems, plucked from Beth’s own back catalogue, re-recorded, moved from piano to guitar with touches of production and studio presence. Songs like “Child Again” and “Dancer to the Drum are placed centre stage and reborn. Featured here is a first time release of Beth’s version of the classic “If My World Didn’t Have You” featuring Rodney Crowell on backing vocals. Great pairing of two fine voices and another reason to hear this fine album. “Life Holds On” here as a pared back version that makes her 1990 version sound very busy, is anthemic and a personal favourite from many on this album. The performance has that rolling lilt and effortless delivery that brings to mind Bruce Cockburn’s wry observational writing and delivery. From a tale of melancholy comes a building sense of hope and tenderness. Producer Sam Ashworth layers a few players around Beth to create beauty. This is a fine album, a fine addition to Beth’s growing canon. A fine addition to those albums like Emmylou Harris Wrecking Ball, k.d. lang’s Ingenue or Lyle Lovett’s Step Inside This House, that are exercises in restraint, where a powerful voice testifies inside of a cathedral of minimal accompaniment. Hearts of Glass represents the best of all worlds. If you know Beth already then here are new versions of treasured songs that allow you to fall in love all over again. If you don’t know Beth’s albums then here is a perfect distillation of that voice to die for and some stunning bits of song writing presented here in all their glory. This pairing of Beth and producer Ashworth informed by a love of the Civil Wars duo and their clarity and space is inspired. Here’s hoping it isn’t a one off.