Album: Tracy Chapman

Let it Rain, Elektra

Though the first flush of her career is well behind her, a substantial level of interest in Tracy Chapman endures. The retrospective compilation Collection was one of last year's surprise successes, shifting more than 350,000 copies in the UK, an achievement that the accomplished Let It Rain deserves to emulate. Her sixth album, it's co-produced by John Parish, whose subtle arrangements provide shading and emphasis for Chapman's songs without crowding them, leaving centre-stage free for her distinctive voice. Surrounding her acoustic guitar with faint touches of roots-music instruments such as banjo, dobro, steel guitar and accordion, along with occasional strings and vibes, the settings work with the material, led by it rather than forcing it in inappropriate directions. As ever with Chapman, it's the lyrics that are most striking, whether she's dealing with desire and sexual curiosity ("You're the One", "Happy", "In the Dark"), death ("Another Sun", "Say Hallelujah") or, in "Broken", the cultural dominance of photography: "A framed and frozen moment/ So far from perfection/ Not truth or transcendence/ Will set you free." The strongest political sentiment is probably contained in "Hard Wired", a song about the humiliations of reality TV, and the way that medium seeks to manipulate "all the secrets and the mysteries you've been selfishly withholding", turning them into "sit-com dialogue and advertising slogans". But she's just as effective in analysing the smaller-scale humiliations of being dumped in "Goodbye", noting how "It's all in the one word/ You hope will make you young again/ Goodbye."

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