Telling Stories [Enhanced]

by: Tracy Chapman

Forget that Tracy Chapman's fourth album shares a title with the Charlatans UK's fifth album (and sole masterpiece), Telling Stories -- as far any fan knows, Chapman probably isn't even aware of the Madchester group's existence. Instead, it should be viewed as what it is -- the sequel to New Beginning, the album that reaffirmed Chapman's status as a fine singer/songwriter to a wide audience. That record became a hit thanks to a bluesy, hooky cut called "Give Me One Reason." Telling Stories, as the title suggests, leans toward narratives, but not necessarily in the conventional sense of the term. There are no story-songs, in the way that "Fast Car" was a story. Instead, they are emotional, poetic snapshots -- sort of like the musical equivalent of a dense, impressionistic short story. Chapman's songs on Telling Stories may not be as packed with detail as, say, Raymond Carver's work, but they certainly have a way of creating impressionistic lyrics, making short lines mean a lot. Also, the last album taught her a valuable lesson: her lyrics can be rich, but her compositions won't work collectively as a record if she doesn't craft melodic songs and warm productions. That's exactly what she delivers on Telling Stories. Some may think she does this to a fault -- it's easy to coast on the sound of the record without digging into the lyrics -- but the end result is basically the same: a strong, appealing collection of sturdy, tuneful, and evocative songs. This album may not sparkle with genius, as her debut did, nor is it as direct as its predecessor, but it's a strong, solid record that maintains Chapman's reputation as a reliably intriguing and substantive singer/songwriter. [This enhanced edition features bonus material.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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