When talking or listening to Jen Chapin it's tough not to be reminded of Norah Jones. Both are the progeny of music icons-Chapin the daughter of folk-rock troubadour Harry; Jones of sitar legend Ravi Shankar. Both emerged from downtown Manhattan's vibrant urban-folk scene. Both favor earthy ballads. They share a drummer (Dan Rieser). They sound more than a little alike.
What Jones has that Chapin doesn't is a shelf full of Grammys, a rabid international following and a heavily overhyped reputation to live up to. But Chapin couldn't be happier with her comparatively low luster. "Every time I read something about her," says the slightly older, wiser Chapin with a knowing smile, "I think 'Ah, the poor girl, and so young.' My dad was never the rock star he really wanted to be, but he achieved a certain level of fame and financial security, so that's never been a driving goal of mine. I know what that life entails and it's not that alluring; it's not something I romanticize."
Instead, as evidenced throughout both Open Wide (Purple Chair), her nakedly gorgeous 2002 album with bassist and husband Stephen Crump, and the equally hypnotic new Linger (Hybrid), Chapin shares her father's zealous yearning for communal harmony. An unapologetic booster of New York City (as keenly intuitive flag-wavers go, her "NYC" and "City" make Kander and Ebb's "New York, New York" sound like hollow tub-thumping), the diehard Brooklynite has given her friends and neighbors "Hurry Up Sky," surely the most eloquently heartfelt paean to post-9/11 pain and healing yet crafted.
Though ready, willing and able to rage against social inertia ("Passive People") and cookie-cutter conformity ("Regular Life"), she is admittedly more lyrically optimistic than Harry: "That's my default setting," she laughs. "I'm an intellectual pessimist but a practical optimist." Consider, for instance, the dyed-in-the-wool romanticism of "Little Hours," the contagious life-is-a-banquet ebullience of "Gold" or the fantasies of ideal love that fuel "'Til I Get There."
But Chapin doesn't limit her quest for peace, love and understanding to the recording studio. As much or more of her time is devoted to teaching and to Artists Against Hunger and Poverty, a humanitarian program she helped launch nearly a decade ago and refers to as "a sleeping giant. We're always strapped for resources. But have made significant connections, like Bruce Springsteen, in the industry, and there have been some really great developments lately. Out of nowhere, Aerosmith approached us in the fall. We've done stuff with Phish and Natalie Merchant, [and] ASCAP has been really proactive about wanting to get involved."
In other words, both professionally and philanthropically, "2004 looks like a great year."