Music Reviews Quarterly
Asheville, NC
Fall 1996
by James Cassara
Rating: Excellent

One of the true pleasures of writing in the music field is the opportunity to see and hear performers of whom you might not otherwise learn of. Having been fortunate enough to watch Chandler, along with bassist/collaborator Dan Walters, perform a captivating five song set, I was immediately struck by the authority of her stage presence and near total command of her music. Having now heard Mapping Territories, it is obvious that Chandler is a talent to be watched closely. This, her third effort for the small Red Cow music label, is an absolute delight.

While largely a “pop” singer in the truest sense of the phrase, Chandler has textured this record with intelligent flourishes of jazz, funk, and folk, exploring the elements of each without sacrificing the essential sound that is hers. Her commanding and assured voice, authoritative in its expressive range and delicate in its sheer beauty, doesn’t so much demand attention as deserve it. Chandler is one of the few singers who truly grasps the nature of singing, that it is the role of the voice to complement, not compete with, the instrumental arrangements. The seamless production, provided by Walters, vocalist/guitarist Rick Bailey, and Chandler herself, has the feel of a wonderfully smooth gin and tonic: refreshing to the sense and easily digested.

“Apartment D”, the album’s opener and definitive mood setter, is an effervescent no-holds-barred dance number. Chandler, caught in the throes of new and exciting love, literally bounces off the walls with giddiness, the kind of “everything is right with the world” stupidity that makes the rest of us shake our heads in a combination of shared joy and unspoken pity. Walters’s looping bass lines, set in contrast to a dual backing of piano and organ, propel the song into a mid air collision of night club smoke and dance floor sweat. As the track fades out Walters and drummer Bird Foster engage in a spirited interplay of one-upmanship, countering one another in the best tradition of give and take. Moving swiftly into “Waiting”, a riveting whirlwind of piano, organ, electric guitar, and sublime vocals, Chandler readily assumes the role of bandleader. The melodic structures are challenging and irresistible: each song seems shorter than it really is, leaving the listener wanting more.

There is not a single weak track on Mapping Territories, and more than a few standouts. “Time” a song originally recorded for Chandler’s debut record, Slow Down Rain, and included here in the anticipation of its inclusion on the soundtrack of a documentary about the life and works of filmmaker Marlon Riggs, is as powerful and troubling an examination of the ravages of AIDS as one is likely, or willing, to hear. “A tribute to all people living with AIDS,” Chandler intersperses the song with snippets of Riggs’s voice, providing a lasting and loving tribute to the artist who himself succumbed to the disease in 1994. The song goes beyond being merely cathartic, although in and of itself that might well be sufficient, and emerges transcendent. It is one of the all too rare moments when music can both make you sing and bring you to tears.

That Chandler is one of the most exciting and important new figures on the scene goes without saying. Mapping Territories is an essential listen, a powerful testimony to the spirit of head and heart. It approaches that wonderful and mystical space where idea and translation become united, where the water and the vessel are one and the same. Chandler has created a work of which she should be proud. It’s up to us now to listen.