1988, Music

Tracy Chapman (1988)

Chapman’s self-titled album is the introduction of a strong new, one might even say necessary, voice. She offers what was likely a very unique perspective in late 1980s, that of a folk-singing African American woman. Excuse my ignorance but I’m not sure there was much precedent for her, even by 1988. (When I say folk, I mean American folk music, relatively or entirely divorced from the blues.)

Everyone knows “Fast Car” and one of the disappointing things about the record is that it is probably the best song here. That’s not to say the songs are not great – in addition to the unique perspective, Chapman also has a pretty strong, albeit sometimes quirky, sense of melody. It’s just that if you are looking for something as catchy and poignant as “Fast Car,” you’re going to find more poignant than catchy songs for the rest of the album.

For me, the standout, aside from the hit, is probably “Behind the Wall,” where Chapman uses the same trick Tori Amos later used to dramatize tragedy, an A Capella vocal performance. (I wouldn’t be surprised if “Behind the Wall” inspired, in some way, the arrangement of “Me and a Gun.”)

I can’t say I love the production – though this is folk music, somehow 1988 has managed to creep in, whether it;s a fretless bass here or a cheesy ’80s keyboard substituting for whatever instrument, sometimes the ’80s creeps in more than I would like it to and I can’t help but feel that sparser (and less contemporary) would have been the way to go.

But, on the whole, this is a pretty good debut album, introduced a needed voice in the folk scene.


All songs written by Tracy Chapman.1

  1. “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution” 2:40
  2. “Fast Car” 4:57
  3. “Across the Lines” 3:25
  4. “Behind the Wall” 1:50
  5. “Baby Can I Hold You” 3:14
  6. “Mountains o’ Things” 4:39
  7. “She’s Got Her Ticket” 3:57
  8. “Why?” 2:06
  9. “For My Lover” 3:12
  10. “If Not Now…” 3:01
  11. “For You” 3:10
  • Tracy Chapman – acoustic guitar, percussion, rhythm guitar, vocals
  • Ed Black – steel guitar
  • Paulinho da Costa – percussion
  • Denny Fongheiser – percussion, drums
  • Jack Holder – organ, dulcimer, dobro, piano, electric guitar, Hammond organ, sitar
  • Steve Kaplan – harmonica, keyboard
  • Larry Klein – bass guitar
  • David LaFlamme – electric violin
  • Bob Marlette – keyboard

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