Savage Amusement was a totally different ball game.
The title stands for a description of anything you like doing that isn’t good for you. Chapman described it as “An exercise in Chapman stealth”, he wanted this album to be the album that will connect his eerie songwriting and singing style, to a more of a mainstream audience.
The major change in this album, is the decision of hiring Don Nix as a producer. Chapman produced his two previous albums on his own, and later commented that if he was a better producer, these albums would have sound like his Harvest period albums. He wasn’t pleased.
So they took Don Nix. Nix, home producer for the Stax label, had brought his home of Memphis to the production and mixes, and made this album to be, in my eyes, his finest album since Window. Once again, Chapman made a different album, and hooking up with dark mood Nix, worked perfectly from the first day in the studio.
However, after the recordings in Cornwall and London ended, Nix went on a plane back to Memphis, and disappeared for three months. He didn’t even answer his emails.
After a while the contact was made again and Chapman flew to Memphis to sit with Nix in the mix.
The opening track of Shuffleboat River Farewell, a song that was originally released in Wreck Again and later in the live album Pleasures Of The Street, is presented here in a totally new arrangement, and if you ask me – the best one.
Chapman’s Telecaster is cutting edge as always, sort of a Roy Buchanan sound he brought to the recording, and the rhythm section of again Rick Kemp, along with Keef Hartley on drums – is just a powerful little groove unit. There’s a honky-tonk piano, a strong gospel like backing vocals and a powerful rocknroll intro to this great album.
Secret Of the Locks features some more new sounds that we didn’t hear before, Rhodes and Wurlitzer, and the acoustic guitar in the back taking a softer part, drums are more relaxed and the electric guitars are not as focus thieves. Lovin’ Dove is another Shuffleboat-style song, but the backing vocals, bringing the best of the Stax style – really makes this song ultra exciting. Where’s the brass section? It would have added so much.
Hobo’s Meditation is another unusual song. First time that someone who’s not Chapman is taking the lead vocals. The duo Nix-Chapman took a real hobo from the street (initially a position that they wished Furry Lewis will take but, again, it didn’t work out).
This Jimmy Rodgers tune, totally brings the south to Chapman’s music, with the whining pedal steel playing of Leo Le Blanc. The choir in the end is comprised by anyone who was in the studio, including press.
The album’s centerpiece is Stranger. Starting with a spooky synthesizer work, and an echoplaxed guitar, possibly played by Andy Latimer of Camel (he is playing in the album, I’m just not sure in which song). This is a totally dark epic, rather unusual, especially for Chapman who wanted to break into the mainstream circuit. But, if The Who opened their masterpiece with two minutes of Moog playing in Baba O’riley, I guess Chapman can experiment as well.
One of the best moments in this album, is the return to the Rainmaker single – It Didn’t Work Out – The SHAFT version. All funky, with breaks, backing vocals, thin and slicing electric guitars. Sheer beauty. Best version of this song. Listening to this song, I realized how much of a genius Don Nix is. Hell, he made this song to sound like a lost Leon Russel song. How cool is that?
[Buy] Savage Amusment appears as a part of the Dogs Got More Sense boxset