Few performers target the emotional solar plexus with precision like Tracy Chapman. Catapulted to stardom in 1988 with her self-titled debut, featuring still-riveting cuts like “Fast Car” and “Talkin’ ’Bout a Revolution,” she’s not entirely comfortable under the limelight. She shrinks from the open-heart interviews and publicity people tend to expect from the famous. She prefers to pour herself into her work, producing a new album almost yearly, including Let It Rain, her sixth and newest album.
The music business has changed since she first hit the scene, Chapman acknowledged. “It’s so funny. I don’t know if I’d call it the music business anymore. Now it’s about creating an image and a product related to music.” She pauses to consider her words. “I think we’re going to look back at this time and realize there’s a lot we overlooked, not just in music but in other arts.“
Not that Chapman lives under a rock. On the contrary, her songs have always been equally conscious of the world as the corners of the heart, all written with the same literate acuity. Though known as a solo, acoustic artist, a small backup band accompanies her on “Let It Rain.” The centerpiece of this album, however, as in all her albums, is her succulent, dignified voice.
Let It Rain covers the familiar territory of love, sorrow, loneliness, and passion. The murky “In the Dark,” and the kicky “Hard Wired” could serve as the album’s bookends, each critiquing the overheated pop-culture machine.
“There have been several interesting interpreta-tions of ‘In the Dark,’” Chapman says. “It is using light and dark as a metaphor, starting with the desire to know and not know at the same time … that struggle to be aware but not tainted.“
“Hard Wired” is more direct: “Your wants and desires/Needs and wishes … Turned into sitcom dialog/And advertising slogans.”
That Chapman endures in spite of her nearly direct opposition to what the great media machine encourages is a testament to her ability to cut through the muck and get at what’s most human. Of course, Chapman is modest when explaining her staying power.
“I’m really lucky. Over the years I’ve managed to maintain a devoted fan base, people who bought the first record and stayed with me.“
Tracy Chapman closes her Let it Rain tour Saturday night, 8pm. Tickets $35, 469-SHOW. Joseph Arthur opens. – Belinda Acosta