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Verities & Balderdash

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Album Review

Verities & Balderdash is a very strange and wonderful album. "Cat's in the Cradle" was the driving force behind the album's sales, but there's a lot more to appeal to listeners, along with enough personal, topical material to make it seem a bit didactic at the time, but Chapin was cultivating a politically committed audience. Verities & Balderdash walked several fine lines, between topical songwriting and an almost (but not quite) pretentious sense of its own importance, humor and seriousness, and balladry and punditry, all intermingled with catchy, highly commercial ballads such as "I Wanna Learn a Love Song" (which is about as pretty a song as he ever wrote). Chapin is in good voice and thrives in the more commercial sound of this album, which includes lots of electric guitars and overdubbed orchestra and choruses. He still loves to tell stories — most are like little screenplays, with "Shooting Star" offering details and textures and a sense of drama akin to a finished film (in the manner of "Taxi"). The "haunt count" on this album is extremely high, boosted by gorgeous ballads like "She Sings Songs Without Words." "What Made America Famous" may be the one song that comes off as dated, a parable — perhaps reflecting the near-meltdown of politics surrounding the Nixon resignation of 1974 — about long-haired teens and crew-cutted firemen who discover a mutual dependence and respect for each other and reconciliation; it seems like ancient history and probably will be incomprehensible to anyone born after 1968. Chapin also lapses into excessive dramatics in the finale, which shamelessly borrows a couple of lines from one song out of the musical 1776. The album also offers a pair of humorous numbers on "30,000 Pounds of Bananas" and "Six String Orchestra," not the most significant songs in Chapin's repertory, but both adding balance to the mood. Producer Paul Leka (the commercial genius behind Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye") retained some elements of the relatively lean sound that characterized Chapin's debut album, embellishing it only enough to give the album some potentially wider commercial appeal. Even the cover art seems to reflect the two delightfully contradictory thrusts of this album: an image of Chapin posed like Uncle Sam on the military recruiting poster with a wry smile on his face.


Born: 07 December 1942 in New York, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s

Harry Chapin's career as a popular singer/songwriter was cut short by an auto accident in 1981, yet he left behind a series of recordings that his fans continue to treasure decades after his death. Chapin was never a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter. Critics accused him of over-sentimentalizing his subjects and attaching heavy-handed morals to his socially aware story-songs; the heavily orchestrated arrangements that accompanied many of his songs didn't help his case with the critics, either....
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Verities & Balderdash, Harry Chapin
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