Beth Nielsen Chapman
For decades Chapman has cultivated her immeasurable gift for writing about life’s challenges and celebrations, drawing in listeners who can see themselves in her songs. In early 2018, just before the American release of Hearts of Glass, she headlined a tour of the United Kingdom where her warm, heartfelt voice filled stately theaters and concert halls.
Produced by Sam Ashworth, Hearts of Glass is a collection of songs about vulnerability and strength, which includes several new compositions and a few striking versions of rediscovered songs. Riveting and sparse, these songs, like the heart, traverse the delicate line between vulnerability and strength.
Chapman also includes on the record a pair of early songs recorded by Waylon Jennings (“Old Church Hymns & Nursery Rhymes”) and Willie Nelson (“If My World Didn’t Have You”). Rodney Crowell provides vocals on “If My World Didn’t Have You,” and Ruby Amanfu sings on five of the album’s 11 tracks.
Although Chapman has been making records since 1980 with many top producers, Hearts of Glass marks the first time in a long time she has not been at least a co-producer. Inspired to create an album with clarity and space, in the same vein of the Civil Wars, Chapman contacted Charlie Peacock, their producer. Peacock embraced her vision but when their schedules did not align, he set up an introductory meeting with his son and fellow producer, Sam Ashworth. After initial conversations with Ashworth, Chapman felt confident that this partnership would work and turned production completely over to him.
“Creatively this was an interesting new dynamic for me,” Chapman says. “Handing over so many of the decisions and trusting the process, while trying to quiet my inner control freak. By doing so, I ended up, not only with something I loved, but I learned a lot about myself and the places you can go when you let someone else drive.”
For Hearts of Glass, Chapman refreshed five songs from past albums: “Rage on Rage,” “All for the Love,” “Child Again,” “Life Holds On” and “Dancer to the Drum.” Ashworth approached the new recordings with minimal touches of production, occasionally moving the accompaniment from piano to acoustic guitar. The spare arrangements are especially effective on poignant songs like “Epitaph for Love.” Meanwhile, “You’re Still My Valentine” is a nod to the complexities of deep lasting love.
Ashworth and Chapman also worked together as songwriters on the jubilant “Enough for Me.” Leading the album is “Come to Mine,” an inviting collaboration with Graham Gouldman (of 10cc) and Nashville songwriter Kevin Montgomery.
Born in Harlingen, Texas, Chapman grew up as a self-proclaimed “geographical mutt.” The third of five children, Chapman is the daughter of an Air Force major and a registered nurse. As Beth entered the ninth grade, the family relocated from Munich, Germany, to Montgomery, Alabama. The young woman grew enchanted with the guitar and she began crafting songs almost immediately. She lived in Montgomery until she married in 1979. A year later, she recorded the album Hearing It First for Capitol Records, though it was largely overlooked.
With her husband Ernest and their young son, Chapman made the move to Nashville in 1985. She released a self-titled album in 1990, followed by 1993’s You Hold the Key. Around the time that album arrived, Ernest was diagnosed with cancer. He died in 1994. As Chapman grieved privately, she wrote “Sand and Water,” an emotional meditation on life, loss, and surviving. Elton John performed it on his 1997 tour in place of “Candle in the Wind” to honor the memory of Princess Diana.
As the decade concluded, Chapman had placed hit songs with country stars like Alabama (“Here We Are”), Martina McBride (“Happy Girl”), Lorrie Morgan (“Five Minutes”), Willie Nelson (“Nothing I Can Do About It Now”), Tanya Tucker (“Strong Enough to Bend”), and Trisha Yearwood (“Down on My Knees”). Recorded by Faith Hill, “This Kiss” earned a 1998 Grammy nomination for best country song. She also landed seven songs from her tenure on Reprise Records on Billboard’s adult contemporary chart. The label gathered a dozen songs from this era for 1999’s Greatest Hits.
In 2000, as she was finishing her album Deeper Still, Chapman battled breast cancer. The evocative album appeared in 2002 following her treatments and recovery. On tour, she spoke about her experiences with breast cancer and encouraged her audiences to be vigilant about caring for their health. Her catalog grew to include the stunning album Hymns (2004), the eclectic Look (2005), and the sacred song collection Prism (2007).
As she started writing for a new project, Chapman found it difficult to find lyrics that had once come so readily. She feared that her creativity was suddenly no longer accessible. Instead, after visiting a doctor to address a loud ringing in her ears, an MRI revealed a benign brain tumor in the left frontal lobe, the language center of her brain. After its removal, the words flowed again and 2010’s Back to Love became one of her most accomplished releases in the United Kingdom.
A subsequent project, 2012’s The Mighty Sky, received a Grammy nomination for best children’s album. On her 2014 release, UnCovered, Chapman reclaimed songs she wrote that had been cut by other artists, but that she had not yet recorded herself. Two years later she teamed with friends Olivia Newton-John and Amy Sky for an album titled LIV ON, focusing on music that would bring comfort to those experiencing grief and loss.
Chapman’s songs have been cut by an eclectic list of artists ranging from Neil Diamond, Waylon Jennings, Keb’ Mo’, The Indigo Girls, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins to Elton John, Patti LuPone, Bette Midler, Amy Grant, Olivia Newton-John and Bonnie Raitt, to name a few. She was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2016.
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