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Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (1988)

January 7, 2012

[Album 7/1001]

Full disclosure: I tend to appreciate male vocalists (Chris Martin, Brian Wilson) who sing in ranges typically associated with females.  Vice versa is also true: I’m partial to female vocalists who dip into notes written on the bass clef.  This would include Annie Lennox, Sue Passmore (of the Good Lovelies), and naturally, Tracy Chapman.

There’s nothing fancy about the music on the album; and that only adds to the appeal.  By keeping the instrumentation understated, Tracy’s captivating vocals are firmly in the spotlight.

Lyrics throughout the self-titled album address themes of segregation, consumerism, domestic violence, love and poverty.  She covered the latter two themes brilliantly in the heartbreaking Fast Car.   

Is there a better song than Fast Car?  OK, the guitar riff is eerily similar to John Mellencamp’s Jack & Diane. Yes, it’s likely too long for a single (clocking in at just under 5 minutes).

The song is otherwise perfect. 

I absolutely adore the song structure:  Verse-Verse-Verse-1/2 Verse-Chorus…2 minutes before the chorus!

The difficult family life; the couple struggling to make ends meet, one partner not pulling their weight;  the hopes and dreams of better days abandoned when she switches from ‘we leave tonight’ to ‘you leave tonight’ in the final chorus.

A powerful debut album, if slightly overshadowed by the strength of its second track.

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From → 1980s

7 Comments
  1. Jenn permalink

    You’ve inspired me. I haven’t had my Tracy Chapman albums out for a long time, but they are back in rotation! I really like her 1995 album “New Beginning” too. You may remember it from the regular loop playing my room between bouts of whatever musical I was in at the time. I think you hit the nail on the head about how the clean, seeming-simplicity of the instrumentation combined with the completely unforced nature of the vocal performance enhances the poeticism of the lyrics. I think a lot of the pop singers out there today could learn a lot from Tracy Chapman about conveying feeling through muted texture in the voice.

    • Agreed. I believe you also introduced me to her ‘gimme one reason,’ still one of my favourite 12-bar blues songs, much appreciated!

  2. Wow! Holy cow! That’s great!

  3. What about Tanita Tikaram for the deep female voice? Even if you don’t like her music?

    Is it true that Chapman had a lucky break when Stevie Wonder’s playback didn’t show up at the concert for Nelson Mandela, giving her a chance to play more than planned? Of course, an example of Pasteur’s “luck favours those who are well prepared”. (My favourite example of this: the closing scene—up there with Chaplin’s tramp as a film icon—in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal was shot after the film as planned was literally in the can: on the spur of the moment, in one take, with no rehearsal, with people who weren’t even actors.)

    • I’m not familiar with Tanita, I’ll have to explore – and I’d heard the Nelson Mandela concert was a ‘break’ for her, but I hadn’t heard that part of the story, interesting!

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