When an artist or label describes someone's music as "beyond category," it is usually an exaggeration -- the music isn't as unique as the artist or label would like to believe. But some artists really are difficult (although not necessarily impossible) to categorize, and Jen Chapin shows herself to be that type of artist on Live at the Bitter End. Recorded at New York's Bitter End over the course of about nine months in 1999, this CD does not fit neatly into any one category. Rock, pop, folk, jazz, and soul are all part of the big picture on Live at the Bitter End, which was the singer/songwriter's first full-length album. Chapin isn't impossible to categorize, but she isn't easy to categorize either. Whether you think of this collection of songs as pop-folk, pop/rock, or adult alternative, Chapin shows herself to be an expressive and soulful vocalist on introspective songs like "Portrait" and "'Til I Get There." The New Yorker favors a rugged, gritty style of singing, and she brings a lot of blues feeling to her songs -- some of which border on R&B. The influence of '70s soul is especially strong on "Me Be Me" and the funky "Manchild"; in fact, the latter probably would have worked well for Rufus & Chaka Khan in 1975 or 1976 (although Chapin was only a child back then and didn't write "Manchild" until the '90s). And "Time" has the sort of jazzy blue-eyed soul flavor that worked well for Steely Dan (one of Chapin's many influences) in the '70s. Live at the Bitter End paints a consistently attractive picture of the singer/songwriter's 1999 performances at that Lower Manhattan venue.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson