The cover shot of Marshall Chapman's new album, "Big Lonesome," tells a powerful story by itself; Chapman sits, eyes closed, in a shadowed corner with her acoustic guitar, an open case beside her with a publicity photo of Tim Krekel propped against the lid. It's not hard to translate a thousand words of grief and sadness from this single picture, but any lingering doubt is dispelled by Chapman's songs, a fitting tribute to her longtime friend and collaborator, who succumbed to cancer last year just three months after being diagnosed.
"Big Lonesome" is all the more amazing considering that Chapman had largely decided to give up music to concentrate on her writing career; Krekel's passing unleashed a torrent of songs that wouldn't be denied and combined with a handful of co-writes that Chapman had in the can, "Big Lonesome" was inevitable.
The album starts with the title track, a Chapman/Krekel classic country tune that details love gone wrong, but just as easily addresses Chapman's feelings over Krekel's absence. Chapman's songs more directly and literally focus on Krekel, from the roots blues pulse of Down to Mexico to the shimmery Americana balladry of Falling Through the Trees to the country blues eulogy of Tim Revisited to the hang-your-head-and-moan country folk of I Can't Stop Thinking About You.
On the two covers, Chapman channels her inner Lucinda Williams, first on the sad Western swing of Cindy Walker's Going Away Party and then with her heartrending take on Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. Clearly Chapman doesn't want to end on a sad note, so she closes with a raucous reading of her and Krekel's roots rock classic I Love Everybody; recorded at last year's Dance or Die Festival in Louisville, Ky., the song is Chapman's very last live performance with Krekel.
It's not hard to hear the hole in Marshall Chapman's heart on "Big Lonesome," it's equally easy to hear the love she had for her fallen friend but most importantly, it proves that she's a long way from being done with music.