Marshall Chapman writes and performs witty, down-home tunes about life, love, and death without being preachy or weird about it. She possesses a cosmic consciousness that smiles at the absurdity of existence, the irrationality of human connections, the silliness of the search for meaning, and the joy of finding it in everyday, ordinary stuff. This self-proclaimed tall girl looks to the heavens for inspiration and sees the stars and finds the details of reality more magnificent than any supernatural entity. And she has a musician’s heart. Chapman knows how to put her thoughts and feelings into a song and make it sound as natural as if she’s just talking to a friend.
Perhaps this is because Chapman’s not afraid to be intimate, not in a sexual sense but in the more personal and confidential manner of exchanging secrets. She speaks her mind candidly at the risk of being unpopular. Who else would bring up the words of preacher Billy Graham, a television talk show, and g-d’s love for Islamic terrorists at a bar during South by Southwest? While in the midst of her gig at BD Riley’s, Chapman told the audience that she saw Graham on Larry King’s show the other night. King asked the preacher if Jesus loved the people that crashed the plane into the World Trade Center as much as he loved Graham. The preacher answered yes without hesitating, according to Chapman, who then launched into her good-time feeling song, “I Love Everybody”. She obviously meant the words to the song as literally as Graham thought Jesus did, if not more so, as she continued her verse with “I love everything.” She’s not naïve. Chapman knows that all she has to do is turn on her TV to see war and disaster. However, she chooses to embrace the positive rather than to dwell on the negative side of things.
That doesn’t mean Chapman tolerates fools. At the SXSW gig she berated the people at the far end of the bar who talked while she performed, for their lack of respect for the listeners. Her songs reveal her openness, but she’s not shy and she’s no Pollyanna. Chapman sings about the finality of death on “Now the Rain is Falling”, without any mention of an afterlife or positive redemption. This doesn’t mean she lacks faith. In fact she proclaims the opposite on the disc’s opening track, “Have a Little Faith”. But the belief she advocates is to have trust in oneself, those whom you love, and the physical reality that exists around us. Chapman uses the example of the Big Dipper as a metaphor for the realization that there is guidance for those who seek it. Just as the old song said, if one follows the Drinking Gourd one will head in the right direction for freedom. That was true then, and the stars in the sky still indicate that there is something greater than ourselves which can steer us now.
Nor is Chapman necessarily a Christian, despite her reference to Graham in Austin. Her spirituality seems much more universal. The finest song on the album is the quirky “Call the Lamas!”, whose title refers to Buddhist monks. In the song Chapman announces that she has discovered the Buddha. She spotted him sitting in the child’s seat of a grocery cart at the register at the local supermarket. Chapman witnessed the miracle of his beatitude and the glory his “transcendental smile” bestowed on three small girls who were out shopping with their mother. Chapman treads the line between seriousness and humor to suggest that there are wonders all around us every day if we only take notice. The song succeeds because of the purposeful ambiguity, and because it has such a catchy melody.
Chapman does believe in romantic love. On one song she tells her mate that she falls in love with him again every day. On another she says straight out that she’s a pitiful fool who would be lost without him. Chapman’s not afraid to admit her vulnerability. That may not be hip or smart, but she’s more concerned about being honest. This integrity makes the tall girl big in the best sense of the word.