Picks and Pans Review: Tracy Chapman

updated 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tracy Chapman

You know how when you look at the night sky, the starlight you see has traveled so far it is actually millennia old? (Hey, we're here to inform; this isn't Solid Gold, you know.) Tracy Chapman, a new Boston-based artist, is only 24, but her voice too represents a gorgeous light from the past. It certainly seems odd in our times to hear a folkie musical setting used to decry social injustice and advocate radical solutions, as Chapman does on Talkin' 'bout a Revolution, or predict racial riots on "back streets of America" as she does on Across the Lines. On Why, she takes on a world of troubles, from hunger to nuclear missiles. Sure makes Chapman stand out from the rest of the pop crowd, most of whom are writing songs about hotel rooms or relationships or relationships in hotel rooms. She'd probably stand out anyway. She has a bracing voice, an idiosyncratic delivery, a punchy compositional style and a way with words ("You see my old man's got a problem/ He live with the bottle that's the way it is/ He says his body's too old for working I say his body's too young to look like his"). On her debut she could pass as a distant cousin of Joan Armatrading. She clearly doesn't need to storm the ramparts to make an impact. Her more personal songs, in fact, are her best, such as Behind the Wall, an a cappella recounting of a neighboring couple's domestic violence, or Fast Car, which sounds like a female companion piece to one of Springsteen's bucket-seat sagas. Yet it's her anachronistic social platform that is going to get Chapman attention. Somewhere out there, in the general direction of those distant stars, Phil Ochs is smiling. (Elektra)

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