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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Marshall Chapman has been making records for longer than most of today’s indie rockers have been alive. Songs I Can’t Live Without is her 14th release, her eighth on TallGirl Records.
Recording an album of classics had always been on Chapman’s bucket list. “The songs I write have always been so personal,” Chapman says. “I needed a break. I was getting tired of living myself into a corner, just so I could write myself out.”
Songs I Can’t Live Without begins with Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” which Chapman sings for the first time while recording it, and ends with “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” the first song she remembers singing as a child. In between are classics by Otis Blackwell, Goffin/King, J.J. Cale, Bob Seger, and even Chet Baker.
Marshall on …
“He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands” (Traditional) is the first song I remember singing as a child. I was eight years old. It was a big hit on the radio by an English singer named Laurie London. It’s one of those songs you know the minute you hear it. Anyway, this was Spartanburg, South Carolina. TB and LeNoir Thackston lived next door to us. LeNoir was my great aunt. Her oldest son, Barry, was in the Air Force stationed in Texas. Whenever Barry would be home on leave, all the kids in the neighborhood would go crazy. That’s because Barry loved children. (Children can always tell when adults love them.) He even had nicknames for us. His nickname for me was “Cookie.” Harriette Elmore who lived across the street was “Monkey.” Barry knew I loved to sing, so he would encourage me. “Hey Cookie!” he’d shout out. “Sing that song about ‘He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands’.” So I’d start singing it in my little eight-year-old voice. And Barry would get so happy, his happiness just pulled that song right out of me. When we first tracked this album, another song was the closer. But it just didn’t seem quite right. So for days and days I thought about a replacement. Then it hit me that a gospel song might be the ticket. I considered “I Shall Not Be Moved.” But then I remembered “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The day we recorded this was the day of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. I was driving to the studio in East Nashville, and when I saw all the flags at half mast, I had to pull over to the side of the road. There I jotted down notes for the recitation that you hear at the end of this recording.I hope you enjoy this as much as we enjoyed recording it.”
What they’re saying …
It’s a gift and a blessing that the Tall Girl has put a fresh frame around nine songs that none of us should have to live without. And there’s the added value of Her sermon at the end of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” quite possibly halting the spread of COVID-19.
Over the 9 or 10 thousand gigs Marshall Chapman and I have ever done together, I’d hear her play her own brilliant songs and then she’d hit you with a Hoagy Carmichael number, or “Going Away Party” or any number of classic tunes. She didn’t just sing these songs, she inhabited them. If anybody calls Songs I Can’t Live Without a “covers album,” they deserve a smack in the mouth. It’s an eclectic array of renditions and shows Marshall Chapman not as a classic rock and country singer/songwriter, but as a razor-sharp interpreter (and reinventor) of classics by Otis Blackwell, Goffin/King, Leonard Cohen, J.J. Cale, Bob Seger and even Chet Baker. What’s maybe most amazing is that Marshall took songs from all over the place and made them all flow like an opera. Extra points for the spoken-word section of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” in which the Tall Girl pretty much sums up the world.
When I hear Marshall sing, I think of Marlene Dietrich. I love this record, Marshall!
When Marshall (here in the South we pronounce it Maah-shul) asked me to offer up a few words about her new album, she explained it contained no originals, only “songs that have kept my soul alive over the years.” I was not surprised then to discover most of those songs speak to the dark night of the soul, that ironically help pull us out of that darkness. They are the stuff of real life, the life Marshall has known only too well. It is the reason she writes the way she does, and why she knows a good song when she hears it.
She is the princess of song pirates. She is Rapunzel in the Tower of Song. She will lift you up and break your heart.
I can’t live without Marshall Chapman’s haunting, evocative and impossibly fresh Songs I Can’t Live Without. She finds new phrasing, new meanings and new depths in these classics. No one sings like Marshall, her voice evokes a lifetime of living large and living to the edge, and giving all her heart. This CD is a treasure.
—William Broyles Jr.
screenwriter (Apollo 13)
founding editor, Texas Monthly
Music Review: Marshall Chapman shines with all-covers set – Steven Wine, Associated Press
Listen Now: Marshall Chapman Covers Elvis – Dacey Orr Sivewright, Garden & Gun
A Deeply Personal Soundtrack To a Life Well Lived, Regrets And All – The Rocking Magpie