Thursday, October 29, 2009

CD Odyssey Disc 48: Tracy Chapman

Back to random. Some time back I rolled my first "protest folk" album - Spirit of the West's Labour Day. Here's my second, which coincidentally came out the same year (to much greater acclaim at the time).

Disc 48 is...Tracy Chapman (Self Titled)

Artist: Tracy Chapman

Year of Release: 1988 (dating this album - on the inside of the jacket it advertises "Full Digital Recording). DDD. Wow - there was a time when Triple D didn't mean what you were just thinking it means. Get your head out of the gutter!

How I Came To Know It: Like a lot of people, I heard "Fast Car" on the radio and was amazed. This was the first Tracy Chapman I bought.

Although not strictly how I came to know this, I am often reminded of this girl I briefly dated that had this rule where she would only allow Tracy Chapman to play in her car. We didn't hit it off, but as bizarre rules go, that one is pretty cool - and I am a bizarre-rules guru. I wonder if she still does that, and if she does is she secretly really sick of doing it but trapped in an oath of her own making. Or maybe when she got a new car, she was free of her solemn vow. The latter seems an honourable exit strategy.

How It Stacks Up: I have 4 Tracy Chapman albums - I'd say this is the best, but I think it is a lot closer for me than a lot of people would think, given this album's sterling critical reputation.

Rating: 4 stars.

Tracy Chapman really took the music world by storm back in 1988 with this album, and listening to it again after a while I can see why. She managed to really build a very unique sound all her own - a sort of protest folk with an urban beat. In "She's Got Her Ticket" you can even hear a reggae beat being laid down behind the folk guitar. It is a very cool mix.

Her topics are mostly about the down and out struggling to get ahead in a world with long odds. She makes you really care for these characters, and she does a good job of making their stories into a larger commentary on the injustices she sees around her.

Coming after the Decemberists, I really appreciated the deep and earnest emotion Chapman puts into these songs. When she talks about a revolution, you can feel it brewing in your gut. When she says she needs a fast car, you feel the urgency of that need.

Even love songs like "Baby Can I Hold You" and "If Not Now..." are really songs about troubles in love. The former sings of the regret of a love lost, the latter of a person who can't get her partner to commit to love at all.

It is pretty despairing stuff, yet strangely I find myself singing along. Not because I am revolutionary - at least not in the way Chapman would suggest. Because these songs are damned catchy, and they have great lyrics. Also, I have had this album a long, long time (going on 20 years) so I know it really well.

This is an album worth owning - I suspect a lot of people have it and rarely put it on anymore. The CD Odyssey is great for reminding me when I am doing this - and I was glad to get reaquainted with Tracy Chapman. If you have it, maybe it is time to haul it out for a listen, after all - as Tracy Chapman would say:

If not now then when
If not today then
Why make your promises
A love declared for days to come
Is as good as none

Best tracks: Talkin' Bout a Revolution, Fast Car, Baby Can I Hold You, For My Lover, If Not Now.

1 comment:

Randall Gerlach said...

Shortly after this album was released but before "Fast Car" became a hit, Tracy Chapman opened for Bob Dylan at a sold-out arena show Edmonton. She was a complete unknown opening for a legend. Armed with only an acoustic guitar -- no band -- she confronted 20,000 Dylan fans and blew them away. Of course, opening for Dylan has to be the best gig ever. I've seen him twice, and both times he performed so abysmally that the opening acts (Steve Earl the second time) looked like superstars by comparison.