Chet Nichols : Time Loop
(Kama Sutra - 1972)
Category : criminally overlooked
Chet Nichols : Waving Prairie
(Magic Garage - recorded 1974, released 2001)
Category : criminally overlooked
If you're into smart and poetic Folky singer/songwriter stuff, then this obscure release is a must have because of the high quality of the songs and the driven yet pleasant way in which they are performed. But as several of these Chet Nichols songs also have doses of Rock, I guess the album could also be of interest to fans of Classic Rock and Folk Rock.
'Time Loop' has a pure and honest and at the same time slightly melancholic feel that's reminiscent of James Taylor or, to name someone more recent, José Gonzales. And it's just as good as the best material either of these artists released, which raises the question why this album didn't get the attention it deserved and why it didn't propel Nichols to stardom (*). One listen to the album highlights 'Electra' and 'Who stole the Ivy' is enough to make you understand what a gifted composer and lyricist he was. In fact, there's only one average track on the entire album (not counting the superfluous outro 'Quasar Sleeper'). Highly recommended.
After having read the 'Time Loop' review, Chet Nichols sent me a copy of the follow up album. It was recorded in 1973 and 74, but just prior to the release Chet Nichols got caught in a corporate squabble between Kama Sutra's president and a new owner who had just bought the record company (full details here). This resulted in the record never being released, the most unjust treatment any recording can ever receive. To make matters even worse the new label owners would not let Nichols out of his contract but didn't allow him to record either. This effectively ground his carreer to a halt.
Chet Nichols finally released 'Waving Prairie' himself in 2001 on his own small label. As I expected in advance, the album doesn't touch me the same way 'Time Loop' does. After all 'Time Loop' quickly became my personal standard to which all classic singer-songwriter & folk-pop releases are now compared. James Tayor, Joni Mitchell, all of those far better known folk artists have to eat quite a lot of 'Time Loop' dust. But even Nichols' own later material, including 'Waving Prairie', doesn't quite scale the same heights in my opinion.
Nevertheless this does not mean Waving Prairie is a weak or a bland record. This is still signature (early) Nichols, but a bit mellower, a bit less dynamic, and maybe also a bit more (even more) introspective. The style hasn't changed. Apart from the addition of horns in a few songs and the slide guitar in 'Judas Spy' any of these songs could easily pose as a 'Time Loop' track. It just wouldn't have been one of the standouts.
Since I feel the vocal melodies on general have less instant appeal this means that the album doesn't have the same ability to captivate you from the start. 'Waving Prarie' is more the kind of record that will grow on you over time.
As far as instant impact is concerned the crescendo in 'Earth River' and the title song itself are still impressive. The title track especially, with that surprising almost Oriental vocal harmony in the middle (that sadly isn't repeated) and the ethnic drums and with its fluent and slightly intricate (almost progressive) structure, is quite breathtaking and deservedly won
the "Best Folk Song Contest" at
On a finishing note my guess is that if you enjoyed the 'Time Loop' album, 'Waving Prairie' will please you as well. In fact, I think 'Waving Prairie' feels like a companion album to 'Time Loop'. So if you don't know Nichols' music yet (which is most likely the case), go to his site and start with (the must have) 'Time Loop' first.
Magic Garage: http://www.magicgarageproductions.com
Listen to his new material here: http://www.broadjam.com/chetnichols
(* note = Chet Nichols wrote me a reply after I had told him about the 'Time Loop' review. In his mail you'll be able to find the complete answer to the question why Nichols' carreer didn't skyrocket the way it should have. Read it. It's an interesting case of how corporations abuse their power to break the carreers of artists.)
(note 2: If you come across a record by Chet Nichols, be warned that there is a Country musician called Chet Nichols as well).