Album Review: Marshall Chapman – “Big Lonesome” (TallGirl Records)

We’re a simple music magazine — we’re not the very serious International Society of Logisticians for cryin’ out loud — but when we hear an album that touches our heart and kicks ass, we get seriously excited.

People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad. — Marcel Proust

Dedicated to her late friend, guitarist Tim Krekel, Marshall Chapman‘s Big Lonesome is at times bittersweet and heartbreaking, yet ultimately a beautiful lament from one musician to another.

Chapman and Krekel became friends in 1987 when both were members of Jimmy Buffet’s Coral Reefer Band, and in 1995 the two began writing together when Krekel joined Chapman’s band, The Love Slaves.

Big Lonesome opens with the title track which was to be the beginning of a collaborative album that, sadly, never materialized. Chapman and Krekel share guitar and vocals: “Big Lonesome, that’s my name. Ever since you went away, things just ain’t the same.” Prophetic lyrics indeed.

With an impressive musical catalog spanning 40 years, Chapman’s vocals are as strong as ever, commanding attention even on the melancholic shuffling Cindy Walker cover “Going Away Party”, with a comforting Southern drawl throughout. Chapman is your wild aunt who winked at you when your uptight mother chastised you for your all-night bender back in college.

The only other cover tune is a plaintive version of the Hank Williams classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” In the hands of a lesser artist, this album would drown in the dreary depths of a concept album of sadness and loss. But Chapman is such a stellar songwriter and conveys such honest emotion that you can’t help but be swept up into her world and to be disappointed you never met Krekel.

“Tim Revisited” recounts the last time Chapman and Krekel sang together, a reference to the last cut on the album, “I Love Everybody,” a live performance at The Vernon in Louisville, KY, a bowling alley/music club. “The last time I sang with Tim Krekel, the last time I sang with my friend. / Bowling balls rumbled in the ceiling, and people danced like life would never end.” Krekel died soon after of cancer.

“Sick of Myself” is a bouncy rocker about wishing to be someone else for a day, maybe two. Who doesn’t want that every now and then? Co-written with Krekel but recorded after his death, his son Jason sings his father’s part on this refreshingly honest tune. At one point during the charming duet, Chapman calls out, “Hey, Jason!” “Yeah, Marshall?” “Wasn’t it your father who said ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?’ ” “He said a lot of stuff.” The sense of family and friendship is palpable and heartwarming. Chapman’s lyrics to Krekel: “I’d like to know how it feels to be laid back and cool / To play that guitar the way that you do. / Like your soul is connected to every string /And the whole room’s swaying when you’re playing that thing.” Krekel’s lyrics to Chapman: “I’d like to know what it’s like to be regal and tall / To charm a whole room with that Carolina drawl / To rock with a purpose like ol’ Jerry Lee / While wearing your soul on your rock and roll sleeve.”

The album closes with the live recording of “I Love Everybody,” a multi-track version that Chapman didn’t know existed until late in the album’s recording. Thankfully, it was discovered and documents this magic moment between two gifted musicians. As live performances go, it’s very, very special. Oh, and it kicks some serious ass, too.

Everyone should be lucky enough to have a friend like Marshall Chapman and to be remembered in this way. Big Lonesome is a real winner.


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