Monthly Archives: August 2009

161. Tracy Chapman – “Let it Rain”

So, we get to the fourth of Chapman’s works on the shelf. And I must say she’s won me over.

Tracy Chapman Album Cover Let It RainThis album continues the progression noted on the previous release. Catchier, wittier and more vibrant songs are delivered.

Chapman isn’t what I imagined – i.e. she aint a miserable, angry protest singer stuck in a rut of campus gigs, and Indigo Girls tours.  At least, I presume she isn’t. 

I’m not sure quite where she sits in the bigger world of singer-songwriters.  She shows her that she is versatile, and not scared of the personal.

There is a weirdly dated, yet relevant, song on here also. Hard Wired tells a somewhat fantastical tale of computers wired to brain and peoples’ lives being exposed and open for all to see.  As a veteran of the blogosphere, this intersection of Joni Mitchell-style commentary and Orwellian-futurism, just sounds ludicrous… or does it?

The point of this here blog was to force me to listen to works and artists in my collection who may have been neglected.  Tracy was one of those artists and I have gained considerable respect for her capabilities. Not sure I’d rush out and buy more but I’m happy with our stash.

File under: A welcome shower

160. Tracy Chapman – “Telling Stories”

I seem to have excellent taste.  Not only did I marry the beautiful owner of many of the CDs I’ve reviewed in recent weeks, but I also bought her this particular Chapman release.  

Album Cover Tracy Chapman Telling StoriesIt may have been because I’d read some glowing review of the album in some credible music rag.  Alternatively (and more likely), I bought in a pang of guilt so as to distract from a much larger purchase of CDs from JB HiFi.

Irrespective, this is the pick of the Chapman catalogue thus far (yes, there is one more to go). This is her most diverse and upbeat effort, and therefore her most listenable.

I have no insights into Tracy’s personal affairs, but she just seems happier on this one.  Not annoying “lollipops and rainbows” happy, but rather she is not moping around as much telling tales of abuse and injustice.  She pens several lyrics that are sardonic and clever rather than merely plaintive and heartfelt.

Musically it’s a more upbeat and varied listen, with shifts in rhythm and wider use of instruments. 

This one’s a keeper (like the wife).  (Yes this is a test to see whether she reads my reviews all the way through:) ).

File under: A story worth hearing

159. Tracy Chapman – “New Beginning”

There was a long time between drinks in my wife’s purchases of Chapman releases.

Album Cover Tracy Chapman New BeginningThis is Chapman’s fourth album and has reportedly sold upwards of 3.8m copies.

That figure alarms and astounds me.  There is nothing particularly special or distinctive about this release.  The songs meander along at the intersection between acoustic blues and folk, with little to distinguish between each.

The production is again super slick and clean, doing little to make the songs feel warm.  This is a real shame, as Chapman’s voice still has that “heart ready to break” element front and centre.

The songs here are all far to similar.  She also has a strong tendency to just go on and on and on with very repetitive choruses (e.g. the never-ending Cold Feet).  Almost all tracks here are well past the five minute mark.  Given the sparseness and monotony of much of the accompanying instrumentation that makes for a very, very dull listen.

File under: Please don’t start again

158. Tracy Chapman – “Tracy Chapman”

This little area of my CD rack is overflowing with CDs I had no part in purchasing (i.e. they joined the collection via my successful wife merger).

Album Cover Tracy ChapmanThis album was nevertheless pretty familiar. The two tracks Fast Car and Talkin’ Bout a Revolution are so ubiquitous and overplayed that they’ve lost a lot of their impact, but it’s worth remembering how fresh and impactful they were back in the day.

Chapman has a powerful, emotive voice and this album showcases it well. You ride up and down the musical scales on a voice that seems ready to break but never does.

Her songwriting is intimate and evocative, yet too far on the earnest side for my liking. She is credited with revitalising the protest song for an ’80s audience, but I must say I find this US-centric argument a little insulting, and would argue that Billy Bragg, The Clash and Midnight Oil were doing just as much on that front earlier and more effectively within their worlds.

The production is a little too polished also – for a ‘folkie’ the drums are overdone. Nevertheless this a release I’m happy to have revisited. And I’m ready to change the world (one blog post at a time).

File under: Struggle songs for the shoulder-padded

157. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson – “Rattlin’ Bones”

Here’s an album I approached with much trepidation when it was announced.

Album Cover Kasey Chambers Rattlin' Bones Rattling Shane NicholsonScenario: Chambers hooks up romantically with dude I’d never heard of and then they announce they’ve spawned not only a child but also a collection of tunes.  This struck me as a recipe for self-indulgence and coat-tail riding.

As on several posts this week, I was proven mightily mistaken.

This album was a revelation.  Gangly Nicholson has dragged his missus into a wonderful place.  This is a mature version of Barricades and much more consistent. The sound is definitely rural, and warm and cosy.

There is banjo, harmonies, lap steel, switching lead vocals and consistency aplenty.  They sound like they had a ball making it, and the couple of times I’ve seen them play it live  (in its entirety) the live dynamic’s been fantastic.

Nicholson seems to have tempered Kasey’s more nasally inclinations, and there are fewer throw away tracks and no dull ones.  The fingerpicking The Devil’s Inside My Head is screaming out for a Nick Cave cover (and a great tune in its current form).

This album isn’t quite as conducive to singalongs as Barricades (as I can’t harmonise for shit), but it is well and truly a keeper.

File under: Best musical coupling since the Capt’n and Tennille?

156. Kasey Chambers – “Carnival”

Hear that noise? That’s me backpedalling. Kasey Cambers has walloped my assertions about sticking to her core strengths.

Album Cover Kasey Chambers Carnival CaseyThere isn’t anything resembling old-school country on this release. Instead Chambers is more squarely in the rock domain. And doing quite nicely at it thank you.

Gone also is the usual lap steel from her pa. The sound is more lush, and at times even lounge-y.

The songwriting has matured. It doesn’t have the laughs or the quirkiness of her early work.

The single off this album was also well-chosen . Nothing at All is catchy and appropriately representative of her shift in focus, yet the most typical in terms of vocalisation.

Having listened to the albums in such quick succession it is impressive how far such a regularly pigeonholed artist has progressed across four albums.  Tunes like Railroad and the Tim Rogers‘ collaboration I Got You Know are a long way from the content of her debut.

Kasey’s performs one other minor miracle of note here – making Powderfinger’s Bernard Fanning sound almost bearable.  It is also hard to conceive of how said coupling didn’t spontaneously generate their own Aria category…

File under: Freakishly fine

155. Kasey Chambers – “Wayward Angel”

A wise Australian leader once labelled a Northern neighbour “recalcitrant” for not doing what he was told.

Album Cover Kasey Chambers Wayward AngelI fire the same accusation at Ms. Chambers for not heeding my reviews.

This album is indeed wayward, as Chambers drifts away from mining her most lucrative seam (i.e. true old-school country) and instead explores some rather barren land over in that very bland new-country region.

So again we hear slow-paced, over-played middle-of-the-road fare.

You may have noted little discussion of Kasey’s hit singles from previous albums. I tend to find said tunes to be the more obvious and superficial offerings from her songbook. Here she flips the form again, as the songs with filmclips off here are the best of a mediocre bunch.

I have a big soft spot for the silliness of Pony as it plays to the girly-ness of Chambers’ voice (or should that be plays up?). And the faux yodelling is a nice touch. Similarly, Hollywood works in a painfully obvious fashion.

My sense of this album is that Chambers is pandering to the core of her audience – tweens and mums – and neglecting the ten-gallon hat crowd. And we’re not gonna stand for gaddamit!!

File under: Missing Mephistopheles