New CDs these days keep reminding me of the voices that beckoned from my prized Sears clock radio (AM/FM, with a snooze alarm!) in the early 1970s. When I first spin Linger, by Jen Chapin, I picture myself lying on my fluorescent green foot rug as the devastatingly smooth Roberta Flack sings “Killing Me Softly with His Song.” Linger is a strikingly similar blend of R&B and soft jazz harmonies with the intimate poetry of the singer-songwriter.
Chapin’s style comes as a surprise considering her folk pedigree—her father is the late Harry Chapin (of “Cat’s in the Cradle” fame), her uncle the banjo-picking kids’ artist Tom Chapin. Jen is no folkie, nor does she have the country leanings of Norah Jones, today’s monarch of mellow. Chapin’s last CD, Open Wide (Purple Chair Music, www.jenchapin.com), showcased her songs in evocative duets with her husband, bassist Stephan Crump. Linger, her record-label debut, fills in more conventional, radio-friendly instrumentation and revisits three songs from Open Wide, along with nine other originals.
“So do you like to linger / To twirl time round your finger / Though the world tries to twist you into tight little hours,” Chapin asks in Linger’s opening track, over glossy keyboards and electric guitar. Deeper into the CD, the music remains leisurely and mellifluous even as some of her lyrics become edgier: “Manchild” depicts a wanna-be tough guy with his “dred-lock / freckle / semi-automatic / school book.” “Hurry Up Sky” bids farewell to a friend lost on September 11, while “Passive People” laments our propensity to shut out other people’s suffering and “let the outrage melt away.” But the CD’s prevailing themes are romantic, and the graceful seven-minute closer “I Could Fall (in Love with You”) is like a private love poem.
Music with this much breathing room requires exceptional singing to hold a listener’s attention, and Chapin is up to the task. She takes on a nice bluesy rasp on “Me Be Me” and sounds as much at home on the calypso-flavored “Passive People” as in the poppy “Little Hours.”
Throughout the CD, both Chapin and band follow the credo of less is more, which is admirable in this pumped-up age but sometimes leaves me wishing for, well, a little more intensity and grit. Chapin seems to have the vocal and songwriting chops to steer the music where she wants in the future; for now, Linger delivers on her promise to take her own sweet time.
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers (www.jeffreypepperrodgers.com) is the author of The Complete Singer-Songwriter.