Whenever I hear "Tracy Chapman" I immediately get "Fast Car" stuck in my head. I associate Chapman's name with that song — and pretty much only that song, though of course her other singles are just as well-known, like "Give Me One Reason" and "Baby Can I Hold You." Now she's releasing her first album in three years, Our Bright Future, and it's interesting to hear her distinctive voice again on brand new songs, most of which have a more folksy — sometimes country — sound.
It's not bad. If you already like Chapman, then this album is likely to please. Otherwise, I'd say it's some solid rainy-day-at-the-coffee-shop music: Gentle, melodic, sometimes bluesy with a few dashes of humor and fun. For some more of my thoughts on specific tracks, read more.
Of course, there's a lot of Chapman and melancholic guitar melodies, like "Conditional," which literally reminds me of rain. And as I mentioned above, several of the tracks have a bit of country twang, like "A Theory" and "Save Us All." These are probably my least favorite tunes on the album, mostly because I don't particularly like Chapman's voice with that style of music.
More appealing are tracks like the pretty "Thinking of You," which, despite the sad lyrics ("And now all I do is sit/ in my darkened room/ and on occasion break my silence/ to howl at the moon/ to curse every nerve and neuron in my brain/ that will stop the pain of feeling and let me stop thinking"), is one of the most fun-to-sing-along-with songs on the album. The title track, "Our Bright Future," is another standout tune featuring some organ, banjo, and a low, steady beat. It's not a happy song, and that's possibly why it seems fitting for her voice, which so often sounds wistful. It's evocative but not intrusive, and seems perfect for the music in a scene on a TV show in which someone's drinking wine and sifting through a box of mementos, maybe weeping a little bit.
Finally, there's my favorite track, "I Did It All," which is a departure from the low, slow tunes with its cute, piano-infused melody and what sound like wind instruments. In parts it's almost showtune-y, as she casts a wise, wryly humorous eye back on her life: "I'll tell it all/ when my little black book is published."