Tom Chapin,
In the City of Mercy
(1982; Gadfly, 2000)

I had no idea that Tom Chapin had ever recorded music for adults, even though I was in my early 20s when In the City of Mercy was first released in 1982. I am more familiar with Chapin's more recent work as a writer and performer of quality children's/family songs, and frankly, I think that his talents are best employed in that genre of music.

The CD sounds dated in concept, lyrics and arrangements; it sounds like an album recorded in the '80s which will appeal to few listeners other than those into retro-pop. The tracks aren't bad, but for the most part, they're bland pop songs about relationships that say little that's new. In one instance, "Jeannie," the arrangement is a bit more interesting but the lyrics are less than compatible with current sensibilities. What in 1982 reads like a devoted and determined ex-lover sounds like stalking nearly 20 years later.

Some of the background arrangements reminded me of Electric Light Orchestra -- not that I have anything against ELO, but again, the sound is so attached to its era and provokes little more than nostalgia, not all of it good. On other tracks, Chapin's voice is too light to give the songs an edge and the heavy-handed back beats nearly drown him out.

The one song that shines is "Circle" by Chapin's brother, the late Harry Chapin to whom the CD is dedicated. Here Chapin comes closes to the warmth and vibrance of his current style.

Overall, In the City of Mercy is disappointing and not up to the quality of his family-oriented albums. Unless you're really nostalgic for the '80s or a Tom Chapin purist, give In the City of Mercy a miss and buy a copy of Family Tree or Moonboat. You won't be sorry.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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