Skip to main content

156. Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman (1988)

It's a shame how certain artists get taken for granted. It's hard to call an artist with two inescapable hits (Fast Car and Give Me One Reason) undervalued, but that's what she is. The fact has been mostly lost to time, but but when Tracy first came out, people were amazed by the maturity in her voice and her songs.

Listening to her self-titled debut album, it's easy to see why. There's an assurance and self-possession rarely seen in new songwriters. And it's worth noting that, though Chapman was 24 at the time of the record's release, some of the songs were written as many as five years earlier.

Obviously, that makes the maturity of subject matter even more impressive. Talkin' 'Bout A Revolution, while bemoaning plight of the economically oppressed, doubles as a threat: "Poor people gonna rise up/ And take what's theirs." It's slightly chilling, especially when she advises us to "run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run"!

Other songs on the record are similarly socially-minded, if not as direct. Across The Lines, Why and If Not Now are all earnest and questioning. Behind The Wall, startling for it's a Capella presentation, is in the same vein, but is more specific. It's sort of her version of Public Enemy's 911 Is A Joke. And Mountains O' Things is a clear standout, with great percussion and a tongue-in-cheek approach to materialism. Even Fast Car for all its radio friendliness, is a story of people who need more than they have.

The record isn't all public service announcements; Tracy also takes on matters of the heart. The solo closer For You is pretty. For My Lover shows her reaching out, writing from the perspective of a person jailed, though it may also be an extended metaphor about being in the closet. And the minor hit Baby Can I Hold You is a great tune, but suffers from dated production (a.k.a. keyboards). However, it does make you appreciate the timeless quality of the rest of the album.

I'm sure there are many who would lament this record as an undelivered promise. But as I listen today, it seems to me that Chapman followed the exact path she set out for herself here. She is a talented woman who writes interesting songs and sings them with a soul full of blues. If 20 years of familiarity makes that seem like less of an accomplishment, well, that's not her fault.

Grade: B
Fave Song: Fast Car

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

REO Speedwagon: R.E.O. Speedwagon (1971)

REO Speedwagon got its start in the late 1960s on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana. The band grew out of a friendship between a students Neal Doughty (piano/keyboard) and Alan Gratzer (drums). Joining up with a couple of other musicians, they took the name R.E.O. Speedwagon. It wasn't long before they started getting gigs at parties and bars, doing covers of the hits of the day. The band cycled through several players in its first three years, with Gratzer and Doughty as the only constants. One-by-one they added the members that would form the first "official" lineup: singer Terry Luttrell in early 1968, bassist Gregg Philbin later that summer, and guitarist Gary Richrath at the end of 1970. Richrath was a native of Peoria, 90 miles northwest of Champaign, and had essentially stalked the band until they let him join. It was a good move, as he not only an accomplished guitarist, but also a songwriter. With Richrath the band ascended to the n

The Beatles: "Now and Then" (2023)

All the way back in 2008, I wrote a series of  posts covering the recorded output of an obscure 1960s band called The Beatles. Though never especially popular or commercially successful, they managed to release an impressive 13 albums and 2 compilations in a 7-year period. Once I completed those reviews, I promptly forgot all about the Beatles. I was sure that I didn't need to keep tabs on them, because all indications were that they'd never reunite or release any more music. So you can imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when I came across a YouTube video claiming to be about the making of a new "final" Beatles song called "Now and Then." And then imagine even more surprise when I learned that this song was not the first new Beatles song since 1970. It's the third! As it turns out, the Beatles had actually "reuinted" to record more music in the 1990s. Though band member John Lennon was killed in 1980, he left behild some unfinished songs

Twenty Twenty-Three

2023 marks not only the 20th anniversary of this blog (an occasion I'm overdue to celebrate), but also 20 years of compiling a playlist of favorite songs to summarize my year in music consumption.  Though I still make an ultra-limited run of physical copies, for the most part this now lives in the streaming world. As such, if you have Amazon Music Unlimited you can listen at this link . The Tracks: 1. Mammoth WVH: "Like a Pastime" 2. blink-182: "Fell in Love" 3. Jonas Brothers: "Vacation Eyes" 4. Kylie Minogue: "Things We Do For Love" 5. Carly Rae Jepsen: "So Right" 6. Semisonic: "All the Time" 7. Caitlyn Smith: "High" 8. Wilco: "Meant to Be" 9. Jenny Lewis: "Chain of Tears" 10. The National (feat. Taylor Swift): "The Alcott" 11. Lufthaus & Robbie Williams: "Unlovable" 12. The Killers: "Your Side of Town" 13. Foo Fighters: "Show Me How" 14. The New P