Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Marshall Chapman

  • Me, I'm Feelin' Free [Epic, 1977] B
  • Jaded Virgin [Epic, 1978] C+
  • Marshall [Epic, 1979] B
  • Take It On Home [Rounder, 1982] C+
  • Dirty Linen [Tall Girl, 1987] A-
  • Inside Job [Tall Girl, 1991] **
  • It's About Time . . . Recorded Live at the Tennessee State Prison for Women [Margaritaville, 1995] A-
  • Love Slave [Margaritaville, 1996] Neither
  • Big Lonesome [Tall Girl, 2011] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Me, I'm Feelin' Free [Epic, 1977]
I can't figure out whether this tough, alert Nashville rebel fails to reach me because I'm uncomfortable with a woman who comes on like a good old boy or because I'm uncomfortable with anybody who comes on like a good old boy, but I like her enough to hope it's neither. B

Jaded Virgin [Epic, 1978]
Chapman's voice is even sexier than her looks, she boasts the uncompromising macho ambition of the fanatic rock and roller, and her album is graced with the subtle touches that make fanatic rock and roll come alive. Yet oddly enough it lacks momentum--which I blame not only on producer Al Kooper but on a workaday band and on Chapman's own lingering role confusion. Not one cut sustains. The Bob Seger cover never rocks out, the Hank Williams tribute gets echoed to death, "I Walk the Line" is an elegant false start, and the I-was-born-to-rock-and-roll soliloquy is one of the slow songs--as are too many of the others. C+

Marshall [Epic, 1979]
This "rock and roll girl" is a lot more confident, clever, and animated than such Northern counterparts as Ellen Foley and Ellen Shipley, but she's a fairly one-dimensional conservative compared to Pearl E. Gates or Chrissie Hynde. Not only does she never question what she wants, which I guess is OK, but she still equates rock and roll itself with liberation, which isn't. The reason it isn't is illustrated by her band, who reprise old boogie licks as if they're expressing themselves. B

Take It On Home [Rounder, 1982]
Having failed to connect as a rip-roaring rock-and-roller, she now fails to connect as a Nashville gal. Except on two cuts, that is--"Bizzy Bizzy Bizzy" and "Booze in Your Blood," both of which sound pissed off. Hear me, Marshall? I said pissed off. C+

Dirty Linen [Tall Girl, 1987]
So finally she gives up, living modestly if that off songwriting royalties, and after four or five years self-produces a ten-buck, ten-song tape that gets vinylized in West Germany, the disposable-income capital of the world. Naturally it's her best record by a mile and a half, because she's not trying to prove anything--just putting her songs on the table in front of the perfect little rock and roll groove of her non-name band. The singing is relaxed and aware, the writing sharpest when it means to cut a little, as on "Bad Debt" (rhymes with "You haven't taken out the garbage yet") and "Betty's Bein' Bad ("She's not mad/She's just gettin' even/Betty's bein' bad/It's her way of leavin'"). May she glorify her Pignose amp forever. A-

Inside Job [Tall Girl, 1991]
real smart gal ("Real Smart Man," "Come Up and See Me") **

It's About Time . . . Recorded Live at the Tennessee State Prison for Women [Margaritaville, 1995]
She's a real smart gal who was raised to be a lady, and how she ended up in this godforsaken venue connects to the prison doctor she settled down with after a lost decade-plus of sleeping with guitarists and four years of sleeping alone. His love song is the only soggy moment on this half-retrospective half-showcase. Some of her references--jet sets, self-help books, money-making machines--seem beyond her captive audience's ken. But old charges like "Booze in Your Blood" and "Bad Debt" stick. And new ones like "Good-Bye Forever" and "Alabama Bad" leave no doubt that she still understands her great subject: why she didn't grow up to be a lady. A-

Love Slave [Margaritaville, 1996] Neither

Big Lonesome [Tall Girl, 2011]
Breakup album about a musician who up and died on her ("Big Lonesome," "I Love Everybody") *