Shedding a little light
Jen Chapin’s appearance at 2004’s Rollin’ on the River, after the release of her debut album, Linger, is one of her most memorable. After that show, she and her band were invited on a moonlight raft down the river.
“It was great until we got to a section where there were some rapids,” says Chapin with a laugh. “All but one of us—my husband—fell off the raft. But even he got bruised and wet, and he lost his glasses.”
Once back in Wingfield Park, where the movie on the lawn was Grease, the sopping wet group tromped through the crowd during the middle of “Summer Lovin.'”
A growing and supportive local fan base gives Reno a special place in Chapin’s heart. And now, with two critically acclaimed albums under her belt and her third, a CD/DVD set titled Light of Mine, barely released and already making waves, Chapin returns to the river to play selections from all three. Joining her is the Rosetta Trio, comprised of her husband, Stephan Crump, along with Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox. Son Maceo, now 2-and-a-half, will be in tow.
Music is all about family for Chapin. Even though her father, folk icon Harry Chapin, died when Jen was just 10, both he and her mother, Sandy—a poet and artist in her own right, who wrote the lyrics to “Cat’s in the Cradle"—demonstrated that a life of music was not only possible, but also an honorable and viable way to earn a living.
“When Dad was home, he built dollhouses, played ball with us, fixed things around the house,” she says. “It wasn’t all about music. But I suppose I had a permission slip. I didn’t have to do this big coming-out-to-my-family thing, like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not going to law school.’ Everybody knew that it was a very challenging but worthwhile thing to do.”
Like her father, Jen is not only aware of the world and its problems, she also strives to say something about it.
“I wanted to make music that was about more than just teenage romance,” she says.
Although her formal training at Boston’s Berklee College of Music taught her the fundamentals, much of her “schooling” came from listening to what she loves—funk, soul and especially jazz—and incorporating them into what she dubs “urban folk.”
“It’s folk in that it’s searching for community and meaning, but it’s urban, with a groove, with some tension and intensity,” she says.
Part of that tension is captured in the Rosetta Trio’s fascinating and rich instrumentation, which includes everything from bass to ukulele.
Whereas Linger highlighted Chapin’s poetic talents and vocal range, Ready deals with life’s bigger realities, such as preparing for the birth of her son. In Light of Mine, Chapin explores her feelings and fears about many of the world’s troubles. The album blends covers of Radiohead, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon and other notable artists with some of her own songs to make a number of important statements. For instance, “Lullabye,” also written for Maceo, is a sort of warning to the world’s young people about how many of problems there are to fix, while “Insatiable” compares the United States to an adolescent, petulant girl.
Yet, as powerful and angry as her lyrics can sometimes be, so many of them are filled with hope and joy. And always, when sung in Chapin’s silky voice to unexpectedly sweet melodies, they’re as relaxing as the warm summer sun on a rolling river.