Tracy Chapman – Our Bright Future

chapmanbrightfutureTracy Chapman walks away from a fork in the road on the cover of her new album.  Whether she’s merging onto a main path, or simply fleeing a choice she’d rather not make is a good question.

It’s also a perfect metaphor for the many conflicts explored in this work. Though issues of faith, family and fidelity are never quite resolved, Chapman’s inner turmoil ends up paying terrific artistic dividends.

“Our Bright Future” is an impressive if downbeat work, marking 20 years since “Fast Car” won the attention of a nation of new folk fans.  Chapman appears wistful for past times on the record’s opening cut, recalling when she “knew all the words to the popular songs/with the radio on full volume … I used to sing for you.”

The singer/songwriter used two different sets of musicians for the project, a stable of seasoned session players like Steve Gadd and Dean Parks, along with some younger L.A. hotshots like Joey Waronker and Carla Kihlstedt. The elements blend quite well thanks to the steady hand of producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Vienna Teng).

The anti-war title cut seems at first a story of shattered idealism and betrayal. “Our bright future is in our past,” laments Chapman.  But she holds out hope in the song’s coda that, with new leaders,  “our bright future may come to pass” after all.

There’s a lot of wishing in vain, whether it’s trying and failing to move past a family tragedy
(“Alright For A Dream”) or, on “First Person On Earth,” romantic apocalypse:

“After the earthquakes the hurricanes
The fires and floods
I’m jaded cynical angry and glum
The worlds too absurd and obscene
For true love”

For every respite like the playful “I Did It All” there’s a darkening sky. On the bluesy romp “Thinking of You,” Chapman hits a cynical note, dismissing youth as a time of getting “an honest answer when a lie would do,” and finally concluding:

“I used to think
Galileo would agree
That the world was round
And you’d come round to me
But I have looked for you
And you’re nowhere in sight
The world must be flat
The Babylonians were right”

Chapman lays her battered, torn beliefs out starkly on the neo-gospel “Save Us All.” “I know Jesus loves me,” she proclaims with fervor. “My God is a mighty big God,” she continues, but then descends into doubt, ending on this dour note:  “If pride goeth before the fall/I hope someone’s God will save us all.”

Overall, “Our Bright Future” is a great listen – just don’t listen too closely.

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