Picks and Pans Review: Crossroads

updated 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tracy Chapman

"I'm trying to protect what I keep inside," sings Chapman on the album's opening track, the title song. With that pronouncement, the folkie supernova seems to be trying to strike a bargain with her audience, critics and anyone else who wants a piece of the 25-year-old's newfound fame. "I'll keep my end of the agreement by writing honest, thoughtful songs," she seems to be saying, "but I won't open up my life to you." Following up her 1988 debut, Chapman gives her admirers reason to accept the deal. Her acoustic guitar sound is intact, and she uses other instruments to extend the parameters of the lone six-string genre. Her harmonica, for instance, helps the populist mood of "Sub-city." That song is about the homeless, and there is despair in Chapman's voice as she sings: "Won't you please give the President/ My honest regards/ For disregarding me." "Born to Fight," a rocking blues, picks up the pace with a message of racial self-respect: "They're trying to take away my pride/ Stripping me of everything I own/ Tryin' to hurt me inside/ Make me into a white man's drone."

Such cuts notwithstanding, this isn't the litany of social ills Chapman's first album was. In her more personal ballads, she even takes the chance of baring her soul. Any veteran of the love game will understand what she's singing about in "Be Careful of My Heart": "I just lost a little faith when you broke my heart." "All That You Have Is Your Soul" warns of being "tempted by the shiny apple" and suggests we "hunger only for a world of truths." That message is a hard sell in cynical times, and Chapman may be reminding herself not to forget it. She'll need the inspiration over the long haul, because it sounds as if she has every intention of living up to her end of that tenuous agreement. (Elektra)

From Our Partners