Tracy Chapman is the type of artist who has achieved the critical and commercial success countless others have dreamed of without having to grace the covers of numerous magazines or flood the airwaves with #1 singles. She didn’t have to drastically change her image or style to sell millions of records and win four Grammys. (Her non-rockstar, anti-celebrity style is actually part of her appeal.) Chapman just wrote great music, a point duly noted with her new CD, Let It Rain. It offers some of the original folk fare devoted fans have grown to love, but also brings in new elements that are just as pleasing. Where her previous album, Telling Stories had an upbeat and fast tempo, Chapman opted for a mellow and reflective tone with her latest.
The album is mostly about relationships and reflection; a departure from the socially aware lyrics Chapman is known for, but a welcome change nonetheless. The first song, “Let It Rain” delivers a powerful message of hope amidst a hopeless situation. “Give me hope/ That help is coming/ When I need it most.” “You’re the One,” also the album’s first single, is pure bluesy folk about a love that no one could ever understand. “Let ’em talk you down/ Call you names/ My mind’s made up/ it ain’t gonna change/ you’re in my heart/ you’re the one for me.” It has the right sound to ensure plenty of radio play, but is also a really good song to listen to.
There’s also “Broken,” probably one of the most thoughtful and heartfelt songs on the album, is about the idealistic picture we all seem to form in our minds of what life should be, shattered by brutal reality. “The picture makes a promise/ the flesh let’s it be broken.” Following is “Happy,” in which Chapman wonders if a love is real. The album concludes with a dramatic ending, “I am Yours.” The slow and simply orchestrated song has alarmingly honest lyrics about having nothing yet wanting someone to love. “I stand before you/ my hands are empty/ I am yours/ If you are mine.”
But the album does have its missteps. Some of the songs had lyrics with the most obscure meanings that couldn’t be deciphered. “Another Sun” had some gospel background vocals going on that I just couldn’t get into, and it sounded like Chapman was incessantly moaning on “In the Dark.”
“Almost,” a song about a missed opportunity at love, repeated the title so much it was almost