Written By Fletcher Bonin
It was by no mistake or typo that Tracy Chapman entitled her 1988 release Tracy Chapman. By naming the eleven track album after herself, Chapman is making a declaration, bearing her soul, opening up and showing her vulnerability on each track. This project is characterized by Chapman’s quiet lyrical and melodic eloquence as well as a pent up, smoldering outrage. It is with this album that she made protest music relevant to Reagan-era audiences. Her voice is simultaneously heart wrenching and dignified, combining to form transcendent stories through her contralto vocals.
Two of her more popular tracks ‘Fast Car’ and ‘Talkin’ Bout a Revolution’ are featured on this album and have been circulating through our iPods for years. On ‘Talkin Bout a Revolution’, Chapman’s soulful, reedy voice sings out passionately, “I been wasting time in the unemployment lines.” Her songs are a call to arms, begging for recognition of societal marginalization and immediate action on the part of our government, and everyone. With such powerful, politically charged tracks like this, it is no wonder that the album went multiplatinum worldwide, not mention several Grammy nominations.
Chapman’s vocals carry the weight on all eleven songs of the album, empowered further by a simple acoustic accompaniment and enlivening prosaic lyrics. One track that stuck out to me in particular was ‘Mountains O’ Things’. I can’t believe I passed this track over in the past. Unlike the other songs on this project, ‘Mountains O’ Things’ features steady bongo drum hits to provide the rhythm. This creates a notion of Africana music, and pairs beautifully with Chapman’s lyrics. She sings “sweet lazy life, champagne and caviar” and she continues “won’t die lonely, have it all prearranged.” Her lyrics are powerful and intensely visual, her voice painting a scene to the point that it is less like listening to music and more like seeing it appear in front of you. The track ‘For My Lover’ is as heartfelt and soulful as you would expect from such an intimate title.
Chapman’s lyrical power and passion for revolution are on display in this album. Each track is crafted with individual attention and detail, Chapman using each and every track to tell a different story or experience. Tracy Chapman’s sound is entirely unique and utterly deserving of our attention. What better time than now for songs about political unrest and the need for change?