Of the 12 albums I plan to review over the coming weeks I think the wonderful 1988 debut from Tracy Chapman is the only one for which I can say I remember exactly where I was when I first heard it. Such was the immediate impact of that vulnerable voice and delicately strummed acoustic guitar, transporting themselves out from my friend Gary’s CD player. I was 16 years old, I’d just collected my GCSE results from school (literally minutes earlier) and then… this sound. It was so unlike anything I was listening to at the time. I distinctly remember asking Gary “Who is THIS?” Since then (21 years and counting) it has been one of the most listened-to albums in my collection and one which inspires me every time I put it on.
Tracy Chapman Review
Though the songs appear (at first listen) simple and accessible, Tracy Chapman is an album which you can appreciate at a number of levels. Initially seduced by the sweet melodies of Tracy’s rich and unique vocals, I soon grew to view the record through a different lens as I paid more attention to the thought-provoking lyrics. A powerful political and social commentary of 1980s America which is just as poignant today (perhaps more so given current global events) as it was upon its release 31 years ago. It’s difficult not to be touched by the pain and imagery created by Across The Lines, Why? or the haunting Behind The Wall as she brings poverty, domestic violence and racism to the table for discussion. All without trying to play the victim or patronising the very people whose cause she is supporting. As I’ve aged and become a professional lyricist myself, I really do admire the sincerity and grace of these words.
Tracy Chapman Highlights
She’s Got Her Ticket, Fast Car, Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution
The three singles from this album – Fast Car, Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution and Baby Can I Hold You – quickly became incredibly famous and rightly remain so today. That said, they are by no means superior to the other songs on this album, all of which are worthy of exploration.
If I had to pick one favourite it would be She’s Got Her Ticket (see below). Although primarily an acoustic album, She’s Got Her Ticket is, stylistically and texturally at least, quite a departure from the other songs. The band enter into a vibrant and authentic reggae groove, complete with some particularly tasteful guitar playing. The perfect backdrop to Tracy Chapman’s incredibly soulful vocal performance. In the middle of a record which focuses the listener on some fairly uncomfortable themes, She’s Got Her Ticket offers up a strong sense of hope.
Producer David Kershenbaum certainly deserves much credit for the continued success of this timeless album. Many records from the late-1980s have suffered an unfortunate date-stamp thanks to some of the studio technology utilised at the time of recording. But Tracy Chapman remains an honest record and one I’ve enjoyed listening to while writing this review.
Considering the depth and integrity of this album it should be of little surprise that it’s held in such high esteem. Yet attempting to put ourselves into the context of the 1988 music scene – one which was far from supportive of the introspective folk singer-songwriter genre – makes this album’s strong impact (from nowhere) even more remarkable. There can’t be many debut records which sell over one million copies within two weeks of release, regardless of their place relative to contemporary culture.
Influence On Me
Tracy Chapman has been a great influence on me as a musician. All of her albums are superb but this remains her career highlight for me and I’m grateful to have entered that room in 1997. Here’s a showreel of Storey’s 2006 debut album Out of Reach which I co-wrote and released nine years after first hearing Tracy Chapman; yet at a time when I was listening to her more than ever.
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Another review next week. Take it easy…