In 1969 British singer/songwriter Michael Chapman took the U.K.'s folk-rock world by surprise with his debut album, Rainmaker, on the Harvest label. In an era when each week garnered a new surprise in the music world, gathering serious and widespread critical acclaim wasn't easy, and finding a buying public near impossible. Rainmaker showcases a new talent who holds nothing back for himself. Every songwriting principle and trick, killer guitar riff, and songwriting hook in his bag makes an appearance here (something he would never do again). As a result, there are several truly striking things about the album that makes it stand out from the rest of the Brit folk-rock slog from the late '60s. One of them is Chapman's guitar playing. A true stylist in his own right, he holds a middle line between John Martyn and Bert Jansch with the provocative electric rock funkiness of Martyn juxtaposed against the rock solid folk traditional so wonderfully espoused by Jansch. Another is Chapman's lean, carved, sleek lyrical style, preferring the starkness of poetry to the lush elements of the song styles usually found on records of this type. Both are put to fine use on the opener, "It Didn't Work Out," a gorgeous broken love ballad with a philosophical bent, along with Chapman's doleful resigned vocal; the electric guitars cascade over fingerpicked acoustics, and acoustic and electric basses -- courtesy of Rick Kemp and Danny Thompson. Here, the old-English melody style was welded to a rock backbeat and fused into a whole, rhythmic, elegant, but sparse tale of broken love. The fiery emotions were carried through the measures by Chapman's tumultuous guitar leads. On the title track, an instrumental with thunderstorm sound effects, the weave between electricity and natural sound grows tighter. When playing in traditional or blues styles, such as the dark, menacing folk-blues of "No One Left to Care," Chapman fuses the rock pulse to the folk or blues song, open-tuning his guitars to such a degree that drones created multiple tones and a solid bottom for his voice to pounce down upon. They also create a sense of emotional honesty not so prevalent on the scene at the time -- artists were given to interpret old songs with an air of academic distance -- Chapman chews his words and spits them out while rifling off guitar riffs at every turn that are as gnarly and venomous as anything by Richard Thompson at the time. Not to mention the stunning instrumental "Thank You, P.K., 1944," with its silvery 12-string work that turns the tonal qualities of the instrument inside out so completely you could swear there were three guitars players -- despite the fact that none of the guitar parts were overdubbed -- or the shimmering, high-whining slide work on the rock growler "Small Stones." The CD reissue contains five bonus tracks, a shorter single version of "It Didn't Work Out," and its B-side, "Mozart Lives Uptown," as well as a second part to that track, "On My Way Again," and the humorous but poignant "Bert Jansch Meets Frankenstein" (the latter three previously unreleased). As auspicious a debut as Rainmaker was for its fine songwriting, history has proved it to be more so because it's the only record in Chapman's distinguished catalog where he ever showcased his truly virtuosic talent as a guitarist. Why, is anybody's guess?
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek