Album review: HARRY CHAPIN – Live At The Bottom Line (The Bottom Line Archive)

HARRY CHAPIN - Live At The Bottom Line (The Bottom Line Archive)

Store For Music [Release date 28.02.20]

Harry Chapin was tragically killed some seven months after a series of gigs at New York’s legendary Bottom Line venue.  In that sense, it marks a great songsmith and performer at the end of his short career.  He was only 39 when he died.  In the 1970s he had become one of the highest charting artists in the USA and won many awards including two Grammys. He was also respected (and honoured posthumously) for his humanitarian work.

Chapin belongs to that golden age of singer songwriters in the early 1970s that also spawned the likes of Jim Croce, James Taylor and Jackson Browne.

In 2015 the original 2-CD set was expanded with a third CD and that’s the version that appears here.

Chapin played several days/shows at the venue in January 1981, celebrating his 2000th show, and the 2-CDs picked off the best of those nights and without duplication.  Later, when archiving recordings from what was called “a beautiful mess” of tape reels, CDRs and so forth, an extra disc was made possible with additional songs and banter.

Although a reissue this edition replicates the excellent packaging including liner notes, with the discs nicely reproduced as tape reels.

As for the music?  One of Chapin’s songs ‘W.O.L.D.’ which describes a radio presenter who has given up his family for an imaginary FM station became wider known to UK audiences when “Whispering” Bob Harris played it regularly on his overnight show on Radio 1 in the early 1990s.

That song is included, of course, along with two other songs from Chapin’s third album ‘Short Stories’ together with most of the songs that were chart hits for Chapin in the seventies such as ‘Taxi’ (the only song featured from his million selling debut Heads & Tales) and ‘Cats In The Cradle’ from 1974′s ‘Verities And Balderdash’.

Chapin’s last studio album – ‘Sequel’ – released in 1980 is featured extensively and these songs don’t appear anywhere else in live format.  There are versions of other songs that don’t appear on any live album such as ‘Mercenaries’ and ‘Mismatch’ (from Dance Band On The Titanic, 1977 ).

This package is essential for Chapin fans as the only other official live releases during his lifetime were ‘Greatest Stories Live’ (1976) and ‘Legends Of The Lost And Found’ in 1979 which was reworked when reissued on CD in 2015.  The former also featured studio overdubs due to technical issues.  LIve At the Bottom Line is therefore a more organic rendition of his live shows.  ****

I assume this is part of a reissue campaign, also available in the same series is Pete Seeger & Roger McGuinn (In Their Own Words) originally recorded in 1994 and Kenny Rankin from 1990.

The Bottom Line Archive includes over 1000 recordings made over a period from 1974 – 2004 and includes such varied performers as Barry Manilow, Suzi Quatro and Weather Report.  Some will already have been made available via the artist’s official label releases over the years and no doubt others will be hamstrung by licensing and rights wrangling.  But that leaves much more from less mainstream names, gone but not forgotten.

Review by David Randall

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