That first Tracy Chapman album
is a masterpiece. I loved it when
I first heard it – remember vividly
listening to it on the side of the road
over and over. My mum had to sleep
after a long drive and a rough ferry
crossing, so we parked up out of
Wellington and while she rested I
played the one tape in the car on a
loop; read the lyrics, and the liners –
learned that several of the songs were
written close to a decade before the
album deal was inked.
Those classic songs – the big radio
hits, the deep album cuts, all brilliant.
And yet, sometimes, I like album number
two even more. It’s not aiming for the
charts, there are no hooks – apart from
that great guitar lick that opens the record,
the title track. Neil Young plays piano
on one of the best songs she ever wrote.
That was enough for me to seal the deal
It’s rarer still to find anyone out there that
loves the third album at all – but it has some
songs that I really dig into. It has an
emotional honesty that is almost uncomfortable.
It has no hits at all. And there’s such
a confidence in that.
By the time of the fourth album she was back
to having hits. And the biggest
song – Give Me One Reason – was
actually written way back
and just after the debut. Which makes
me think she was reacting
to the runaway success of her first
album by burying the other commercial
material until she really needed it, or absolutely
wanted it out in the world. There’s also
a confidence in that sort of move – you can’t
learn that. It’s a form of self-preservation.
Four great albums and I had them all. And when
she turned up to play a show in New Zealand
I bought a ticket. Took myself. Enjoyed the
gig. Amazing band. Killer setlist – the best of the
albums to date. And barely a word in between,
just the songs. Those strong songs. Those
People sometimes ask about what happened to
Tracy Chapman. (There were a few more albums
and no more hits). She doesn’t give interviews.
You best not steal a snippet from her songs –
she doesn’t give permission for samples, she
protects her rights, performs benefit shows,
gives to charities, is an activist and ambassador.
People sometimes ask about what happened
to Tracy Chapman. When the better question
is how did she happen at all? The better question
is why were we so lucky to have that wonderful
music from that amazing talent?
In 20 years she made eight albums, four of them
nearly perfect – each in their own way. The other
four have merit, and buried gems, little whispers
that are worth leaning in for; hidden secrets.
And after that Tracy Chapman decided she
gave enough to the world in terms of recorded
music. Go listen to one of the albums you haven’t
ever heard – or haven’t heard in a while. There’ll
be something on there that will make you
smile. There’ll be something on there that will
make the hairs on your arms do their own
dance, there’ll be something on there that
might make you cry. There’ll be something
on there, if you try, take the chance.