Mark Chadwick’s had a good long run so far, hasn’t he? The Levellers have been around since 1988 and are still going strong. To put that into context, their debut album, A Weapon Called The Word, has gone platinum without ever actually charting. And that takes a bloody long time.
More amazing still is the fact that 2010 marks the release of Mark’s debut solo LP. Is there a suggestion that Chadwick’s loyalty to his band has been so unswerving as to filibuster unaccompanied meanderings? Or is the man just not the same establishment-baiting folk-rocker without his bandmates behind him?
Ostensibly Chadwick’s chronological life story, All The Pieces, is by and about a songwriter who, despite having co-written 20 chart singles and six top 40 albums – including a chart topper – remains something of an unknown quantity in the harsh gaze of the mainstream. Quite something to have a relatively clean slate on which to sketch after decades in the business.
Produced by Sean Lakeman, the album’s immediate impressions tend more toward light, uplifting folk-pop rather than placard-waving folk-rock. Augmented, as it is, by British folk luminaries – from Mr Lakeman and his brother to Dan Donnelly – All The Pieces is the sound of barn dance reminiscences; at times, it’s almost as if Chadwick is angling for an invite to the CMAs.
Nevertheless, this is distinctly British stuff; all bright chord progressions with a hint of traditional folk, a subtle element of quirkiness and a storytelling lyrical style that is at once honest and self-depreciating as Chadwick recounts falling in and out of love, both romantically and politically.
Musically, All The Pieces enjoys the freedom of shedding the expectancy of a Levellers effort, allowing Chadwick a measure of indulgence. Opener Elephant Fayre offers vibrant acoustica; the title track’s sing-along channels the optimism of youth; Havens proffers a tad more gravitas with its minor-chord chorus.
And the album, as it trades on its thematic cohesion, presents further charms. Seasons and The Great And The Dead betray Chadwick’s dexterity with the slow burner format; Indians chugs along most agreeably, its voice amplified by the presence of Kathryn Roberts‘ classic timbre; Paramount approximates Levellers territory, quenching the thirst of long-time followers.
To Chadwick’s credit, the LP’s closing trio of tracks refuse to run out of puff – a hallmark of Lakeman’s production, perhaps – and of the three, album closer Whispers best articulates the front man’s self-penned legacy with its simple sentiment, archetypal progression and pared back profundity.
There is little doubt that this LP will appeal to Levellers fans; that’s a given. Such folk aside, Chadwick has on his hands an album that is neither particularly challenging nor innovative, but that’s not really the point. All The Pieces is an endearingly honest charting of one of folk’s most interesting and elusive characters, and a little investment in its chapters offers plenty reward.