Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Soft-Spoken, Sincere and to the Point Tracy Chapman Saves Most of Her Reflecting for Her Songs

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Soft-Spoken, Sincere and to the Point Tracy Chapman Saves Most of Her Reflecting for Her Songs

Article excerpt

Talking to Tracy Chapman is something like pitching baseballs to the world's most patient batter. She stands tentatively over the plate, eyeing each question carefully as it sails in. She barely responds if she deems the question just high or a little outside. But when she finally gets a pitch she likes, she's not afraid to swing, delivering articulate meditations on her life and music.

Chapman can afford to approach the game this way because she has paid 12 years of dues in the major leagues. She released her eponymous debut record in 1988 and became an overnight success (literally) when she played at the internationally televised concert for Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday. After that, her breathtaking single Fast Car soared up the charts, establishing sincerity and hopefulness as her trademarks.

Via phone from Salt Lake City, Chapman said she doesn't really think about her music's effect on fans, and she hasn't spent much time reflecting on her proudest moment. Ball one and ball two, respectively.

Mercifully, Chapman laid down a soft bunt when asked about maintaining her idealism and avoiding the crutch of jaded irony.

"It's just about trying to be true in what you express," she said, adding (after an eight-second pause), "I don't know. I'm not sure how you avoid [cynicism]. Some people, I guess, try to go for that sort of thing. It's just not something I've wanted to express in my songwriting or through my records."

Like Natalie Merchant and a handful of other singer-songwriters, Chapman has chosen to focus on relationships and social injustices. She demonstrated her compassion and liberal politics in songs such as Talkin' 'Bout A Revolution and Subcity, as well as through appearances at Farm Aid and Amnesty International benefit shows.

Though her debut album remains her most stripped-down effort, Chapman's approach to music has remained constant through the years. Her soft voice over a strumming acoustic guitar provides the bedrock for almost every song. If you attend tonight's concert at the Florida Theatre, don't expect gimmicks or lightning-fast guitar solos. It's the message that matters, which is why her newest album is called Telling Stories.

"I think [storytelling] is actually at the core of everything that people find entertaining in their lives, whether it's a television show or a book or a movie," she said, hitting an easy pitch down the middle. "And often you find that the story is an age-old story, you know, nothing new. It's kind of drawing on themes that have been a part of storytelling since the beginning of what we know of as written word."

The commitment to storytelling has paid off critically and commercially. She sold 10 million copies of her first record, winning Grammys for it and for her 1995 release New Beginning. …

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