Beth Nielsen Chapman

Deeper Still

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Biblical imagery mixes with down-home poetics on Deeper Still. With a sound stripped of studio tinsel, Chapman delivers her material in earnest understatement over crisp, if antiseptic, accompaniment. When supporting her own vocals on piano during tracks like "Every December Sky," she achieves a special intimacy; the band's entry, though discrete, somewhat dilutes the effect. No such diminution mars her performance of the Celtic-flavored "Feathers Bones and Shells," largely a piano and vocal piece with touches of cello, or "Deeper Still," on which the absence of drums allows Chapman to ride a delicate rubato, with a subtle but electrifying acceleration when Vince Gill enters with harmony on the chorus. On up-tempo numbers she allows herself less elasticity in both phrasing and writing; "Shake My Soul," with beat pumping and Bonnie Raitt joining in on backup vocals, locks the lyric into a choppy pattern that emphasizes rhythm more than shaded meaning ("Gonna shake my soul/And release my hold/Givin' up control/And let the rest unfold"). At its best moments, Deeper Still displays a strong confessional perspective, plenty of sensitive arrangement, and the occasional surprise; there are moments in "All Comes Down to Love" that even recall the Beatles, from the pinched production in one short segment to a "yeah, yeah, yeah" riff on the fade. On every cut she maintains the high level of craftsmanship that has long made her a hometown heroine in Nashville; her match of lyric to rhythm in "World of Hurt" has an especially Music Row resonance. Nothing, however, seriously challenges any commercial conventions. Deeper Still is in fact more broad than deep, polished and pleasing but a step shy of profound.

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