Jen Chapin is ready. Really ready. She’s just released her third album, and she’s preparing for an East Coast tour that will take her from North Carolina to Massachusetts. A few months ago, she gave birth to a baby boy. She’s prepared to learn the joys of motherhood, and she’s eager to work against what she says is diminution of democracy in George W. Bush’s America. In short, she’s “Ready” — the title of her newest album from Hybrid Records.
“The title has multiple meanings,” she said. “But one of the things I like the most about ‘Ready’ is that each song has a different origin — each came from a different place.”
The word “ready” comes from Old English. Its original meaning was tied to the horseback nature of medieval life, as in ready to ride. But its current incarnations open a wide array of meanings — everything from unflinching preparedness to skillful adaptability to prompt availability. For Chapin, being ready for the next phase in her life was an inspirational moment that provided her with a wealth of songwriting material.
“I often get a lot of work done while I’m walking in the park or riding on the subway,” she said. “Sometimes I have a rhythm in my head and then I’m messing around with chords.”
The varied tactics of creation are evident on “Ready,” with its diverse song structures and multiplicity of emotions. Chapin’s thought-provoking lyrics mingle effortlessly with unexpected jazz instrumentation from her band. The album’s complex acoustic personality betrays a sense of immediacy and flashes of exasperation, especially about matters as heady as global warming or voting rights.
“I’m interested in our long-term survival,” she said. “I was raised to take the long view.”
CHAPIN IS FROM a musical family. Her father was singer/songwriter Harry Chapin, best known for the 1974 hit single “Cat’s in the Cradle.” But Jen Chapin has forged her own way in the world, studying international relations at Brown University.
“It feels pretty relevant to what I’m doing now,” said the songwriter. “I really appreciate my time at Brown.”
After graduating from college, Chapin studied music at Berklee College of Music in Boston. There, she learned to combine jazz and funk music into an earthy funk that some people describe as “urban folk.” Soon afterward, she launched a career as a troubadour — playing some of New York City’s hotspots: Mercury Lounge, CB’s Gallery, Joe’s Pub, Fez, The Living Room, Town Hall and The Bottom Line. From there, she set out across the country touring both with her band and as her unique duo with husband Stephan Crump on acoustic bass.
In 2002, Chapin released “Open Wide” on the Purple Chair Music label. In 2004, her second album “Linger” was released on Hybrid Records — opening her to television appearances on "Late Nite with Conan O’Brien" and the WB Morning News. All the while, Chapin was working on a new set of songs. Largely written while Jen and her husband awaited the arrival of their son Maceo, “Ready” is an album of anticipation.
The songs play like a scrapbook of her life. “To the New” is a meditation over her son’s future. “Go On” is exploration of the follies of technology. “Goodbye” is a coming-of-age tale about the sale of her childhood home. “Election Day” is about her experience as a poll worker in Youngstown, Ohio, where she tried to be “colorless” as she carried her clipboard around asking voters if they had any problems.
“It was a great day,” she said. “But, of course, there was this lingering sense of tension underneath.”
Chapin has played in the Washington area before, performing at Jammin’ Java in Vienna and Iota in Arlington. Her July 13 appearance at Zig’s on Duke Street will be her first appearance in Alexandria, where she will play in a trio with Jamie Fox on electric guitar player and her husband on bass. Tickets cost $10, and the show starts at 9 p.m.