Don't even begin to trust that title. If you know Tom Chapin at all, you already understand he's neither a Gloomy Gus nor even the Lower East Side raconteur his late brother Harry was. Tom's the chipper, everything-will-work-out member of the family that the rest of us (especially cynical bastards like me) look at and envy. If Tom Chapin is saying "Let the bad times roll!", you know what he means is "Let the bad times roll away!"
As opposed to earlier releases like Family Tree and Life is Like That, which were entirely self-composed, this disc is almost entirely a collection of co-written tunes, but there's barely an ounce of difference in that, as Chapin's chosen well his collaborators. So well, in fact, that his accompanists, really just two other gents mainly, sound like a full band—they're simulsynched, of course, but the feel is of a sextet of completely differentiated but integrated musicians. Jon Cobert is an amazing multi-instrumentalist accounting for fully half the sound throughout, Chapin and Michael Marks running up close behind. It's a little shocking to read the liner and realize the whole thing is a trio making full use of technology.
I've been listening to Tom since picking up Life in '76…mainly because of the surname and obvious association (I have all his brother's LPs), and this is his 20th release. He's one of the few musicians I'll listen to who make such happy and positive music, as not many can compose this kind of material and not have it turn sappy. Hence, Chapin, Michael Tomlinson, and Michael Franks are the guys I turn to when I want upbeat material (and, yeah, I know, Franks is the poster child, in many minds, for sappy material, but…c'mon, all in all, the guy was thoroughly unique and highly musical!). Especially now, we need reassurance that the omnipresent negative, the gloomy, and the threatening are not what are important in life, but rather just life itself and our ability to, as Tom puts it, adjust and adapt.
Thus, he fulfills the role of troubadour and therapist, counterpoint to the grim jester and to the ranteur who tell us of things in the darkness. Tom lets the light in, revealing our true heritage to be warmth and an enfolding spirit despite travails and problems. It may even be that we're "marching in reverse, heading straight from bad to worse, going nowhere" (A Bridge to Somewhere) but that just presents an opportunity to get out and change things, create our own salvation. Thus, even the Gloomy Gus'es (like a certain cynical critic or two I could look in the mirror and find) have to admit that the logic and sentiment are simple, straightforward, inarguable…and very hopeful.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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