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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

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