Rushing and going nowhere fast. Jen Chapin sees it everyday: People in a hurry as the world tries to push them into "tight little hours." On her new album, the singer-songwriter spins detailed lyrics and delicate music, encouraging listeners to take it easy, to "twirl time around your finger." Her latest CD is Linger.
Phoning from New York, Chapin says, "[The album] is about the challenges in life and trying to be in the moment, trying to relax."
In stores Tuesday, Linger, the artist's third release, is a pleasant blend of influences: a touch of jazz, some blues, a drop of '70s-style pop and generous amounts of folk. It's a fluid mix that defies easy categorization, a sound Chapin calls "urban folk." Holding it all together are her cool, airy vocals and introspective, sometimes amusing lyrics. "A lot of people hear it for the first time and hear a lot of themes, like the city and living in New York City," the performer says of the album. "But I didn't think of it thematically. It's all just stuff from my life. When I write things, it's not of the moment. I'm usually thinking about [ideas] for months before I write them."
Chapin's sensitivity to the artistic process and her dedication to social change through music come honestly; they run in the blood. Her father, the late folk-rock artist Harry Chapin, used his celebrity to raise awareness about a variety of causes, including international famine. In 1975, he co-founded World Hunger Year, a nonprofit organization that Chapin directs today. Perhaps best-known for the No. 1 hit "Cat's in the Cradle," Harry was killed in a car accident in 1981, the year his singing daughter turned 10.
Unlike other artists who have felt pressured to live up to a famous parent's legacy (think Natalie Cole, Liza Minnelli), the performer says she isn't intimidated by what her father accomplished.
"The fact that I'm female, there's so much difference in our voices," says Chapin, 33. "My father's influences were mostly folk, and mine include jazz and Steely Dan and Chaka Khan and R&B. There was never really any pressure thing. ... He had an impact, but he wasn't a monster icon like Bob Dylan or Nat 'King' Cole. People know him as, 'Oh, that's the guy who sang 'Cat's in the Cradle.' His fans have wished me well."
Although she grew up in and around the music business, Chapin didn't seriously pursue a recording career until the late '90s. In 1989, she entered Brown University, where she studied international relations, traveling to Mexico and Zimbabwe before her senior year. After graduation, she went to Berklee College of Music, where she studied jazz improvisation. In 1995, after finishing up there, Chapin moved back to New York and taught at a Brooklyn high school and developed a program called "The History of Black Music."
While teaching, Chapin was active on the Manhattan club scene, performing with bassist Stephan Crump. After independently releasing Live at the Bitter End in 2000, Chapin collaborated with Crump on 2002's refined Open Wide.
Linger is Chapin's first album to receive wide distribution. (Hybrid, the singer's label, is distributed by Sony.)
Although critics have compared her to such musical mavericks as Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones, Chapin sees her approach as "far simpler than how most people hear it. I think there's a lot of confidence I still have to gain. I'm learning on the job," she says. "I have an old lady perspective: I want to make music that has a lasting relevance to me."