Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman (Elektra ’88) Rating: A-
Possessor of a husky, sultry voice and a clean, precise way with a guitar, Tracy Chapman’s long in the making debut album made her an overnight sensation. Chapman’s realistic tales of fierce hopes, dreams, and love struck a chord with Americans fed up with the broken promises of the Reagan era, and her stories vividly discuss the plight of the poor black female (“on back streets of America, they kill the dream of America”) without being overly preachy. Other topics broached are racial tensions (“choose sides or run for you life”), domestic violence and the police’s ineffectiveness in stopping it (“Behind The Wall”), a warning to fortune seekers that there may be a high price to pay (the rhythmically adventurous “Mountains Of Things”), and the utter helplessness of being desperately in love (“For My Lover,” “For You”). On “Why?” Chapman poses interesting questions filled with paradoxes, such as “why is a woman still not safe when she’s in her home?” and “why do the babies starve when there’s enough food to feed the world?” Instead of offering answers, Chapman instead offers dreams of escape (the lightly melodic “She’s Got Her Ticket”) and the prospect of love (“the only thing that’s free”) leading to a better life. However, as often happens in real life, most of her narratives end unhappily, most memorably on “Fast Car,” where our heroine at first longs to escape with her lover; by the end of the song (one of the best ever) she’s longing to escape from her lover. Other well known, musically mesmerizing songs include “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution” and “Baby Can I Hold You,” and though the album is a bit bland at times it’s still a bravely honest and often striking collection that showed that if you have a great voice, an acoustic guitar (capably played), and the songs to back them up, then not much else is needed.

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