Sniper And Other Love Songs

Harry Chapin

Atlantic, 1972

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Harry Chapin, even this long after his untimely death, suffers from Wang Chung Syndrome; he’s known, if he’s remembered at all, for one song—“Cat’s In The Cradle.”

Now, this in no way diminishes that song, because it’s one of the saddest songs I know. But it does mean that some of Chapin’s other works have been underappreciated or completely forgotten. (I’m going to try to do something about that. Slowly.)

His 1972 album Sniper And Other Love Songs was Chapin’s second release, and continued the deep, blunt, and unblinking songwriting that had first brought him to prominence with “Taxi.” The musicianship is good to great; specific credit goes to the drumming of studio musician Russ Kunkel (who, it must be admitted, seemed to play with my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 everyone during the seventies). The percussion is sharp and clean, managing to punch through even on the songs that seem over-orchestrated. (A common complaint of mine with Chapin’s studio albums is that they’re way too lush and yet somehow flat. It’s as if the label was trying to make him The Association.)

Oddly enough, the songs are timeless. Unlike some of the early-to-mid-seventies singer/songwriters, he managed to avoid cliches that would have dated Sniper. “A Better Place To Be,” the greatest song on the album, tells a story that could happen in 1940 or 2040. In Chapin’s world, people are people, and people tell—and appear in—stories. It was from taking a frozen moment of a story—a single slice of time, a musical photograph—that Chapin’s songwriting stemmed, and it was amazing.

“A Better Place To Be” is a punch in the gut (“For she was well past lonely / and halfway on to lost”) about a man whose life changes in one night. “Sniper” is a loosely adapted retelling of the murder rampage of Charles Whitman, one of the first mass shootings in the United States. “Circle” is a wonderful paean to the circle of life that borders on the hymn-like.

However, Chapin was still sanding off a few rough edges. The potential of “Burning Herself” is drowned in the arrangement, and “Sunday Morning Sunshine” is a bit too trope-like for me. The stinging blues guitar on “Woman Child” doesn’t change the fact that it’s a bit sexist and patronizing. (Yes, I know. For the time, it would be fine.)

When Sniper And Other Love Songs ends with the haunting cello of “Winter Song,” you know that you’ve heard something with the seeds of greatness in it, despite the missteps. Chapin is for me another sad what-could-have-been… but we can at least treasure what we have.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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