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April 26, 2013
Friends of Music — a review: Beth Nielson Chapman at Presbyterian Church
Rarely has a powerful voice and a purity of sound been so fully complemented by an understanding of the human condition.
That was the consensus of an enthusiastic audience at the recital at the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church on Saturday, May 12, featuring Beth Nielsen Chapman, whose songs and lyrics are sung by many of today’ s leading artists around the world. [This review appeared in the Reporter but did not appear on line; it is posted now in response to several requests — Ed.]
A natural raconteur, with a warm and funny stage presence, Ms. Chapman’s ongoing conversation with the audience powerfully illuminates her songs. Many of the lyrics come directly from the singer’s personal challenges: loss of her husband when both were young, her battle with cancer, the death of a beloved friend. But her exhilarating style has the effect of turning sorrow into understanding.
Most of the evening was devoted to Ms. Chapman’s original songs like the two she wrote for her friends’ wedding ceremonies, “All I Have” and “A Faithful Heart.” One can imagine the latter becoming a standard selection for brides, with its straight-forward but emotionally charged lyrics.
Another highlight was the performance of two pop standards, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and a gorgeous version of “Stardust” that would make even Hoagy Carmichael proud.
Her most successful song, written soon after losing her husband, is “Sand and Water,” which has been recorded often, most notably by Elton John. Despite her claim of an inability to read music, she is the complete musician. Her piano accompaniment is amazing and she has written music in every style from country to Mozart, and for singers as diverse as Willie Nelson and Trisha Yearwood.
In several songs she was accompanied by the percussionist Tripp Dudley, who played a variety of instruments that added a soft, subtle dimension to much of the material.
The Shelter Island Friends of Music presents five concerts a year, usually with the focus on classical musicians and ensembles. This concert, with Beth Nielsen Chapman, acknowledged the growing interest in performers who have a compelling, contemporary story to tell.
JOHN G. MILLER