Happy 30th Anniversary to Tracy Chapman’s second studio album Crossroads, originally released October 3, 1989.
There is something incredibly beautiful in being able to write a retrospective. Not only is it essentially a homage to someone’s work, it is also the opportunity for you to revisit a musical moment that attached itself to a time that will never be replicated. Never. Some lay claim to those moments being the “soundtrack to their life” and for others, it is simply an emotional connection to music that just can’t be explained. Tracy Chapman’s Crossroads is one such album that many connected with on an emotional level, explained or not.
It was only a year before the release of Crossroads that Tracy Chapman released her eponymous album Tracy Chapman (1988). An album that was filled with an incredible amount of depth and emotion, something that probably hadn’t been heard in popular music since the reign of singers like Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian and Carole King. Tracy Chapman was far from superficial and it took all of roughly 60 seconds for the listener to realize this; maybe even less.
Although many have drawn that all too easy comparison between debut and follow-up, it is safe to say that whilst Chapman’s debut stormed the charts and produced hits like “Fast Car,” “Baby Can I Hold You” and “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution,” and whilst Crossroads may not have produced the same amount of commercial success as its predecessor, it most certainly is home to some of Chapmans finest and most profound work to date.
Given that an astonishing thirty years have passed since the release of Crossroads, something that still resonates with me on a level that very few artists have been able to achieve is that the messages in Chapman’s songs seem just as relevant today as they did when first released. When returning to listen to the powerful “Freedom Now,” a song that Chapman dedicated to the legendary freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, the message of protest is resolute and clear. But it is the gentle power that lies in the simplicity of this song that makes it so incredibly poignant.
The political theme continues with “Born to Fight” and whilst Crossroads has a heavy focus on social equality and Chapman’s own personal relationships, the album does require a few listens to be fully appreciated. Given that Chapman’s debut was released just a year before Crossroads, it could have easily been seen as replica of what worked for the singer and therefore not given its due credit. “This Time” is one of those songs that shatters that notion and reminds the listener that while the sound may be undeniably similar, the message in Chapman’s incredible ability to write is truly beyond compare. A song dedicated to loving oneself, the words are raw and honest, pure Chapman at her finest.
“Subcity” speaks of the gap between rich and poor, the disenfranchised of society constantly looking in on what they will most likely never have, and whilst it does pack a punch lyrically, it fails to hit the highs that the profoundly powerful “Across The Lines,” a song in a similar vein from Chapmans debut, provided us just a year earlier. Other notable songs are the painfully beautiful “Bridges” and “Be Careful of My Heart,” both songs based around relationships and the pitfalls that all too often come with them.
Crossroads most definitely has that familiar feeling and given the short time in between album releases, it is forgivable to think that you may be walking down a very recognizable musical path. That said, should you do yourself the favor and really listen to the album, you will find that whilst the songs are inexplicably Tracy Chapman, there most definitely are solid differences. The album’s namesake and title track “Crossroads” and the closing track “All That You Have Is Your Soul” are both highlights not only on this album, but also among Chapman’s entire unrivalled songwriting repertoire.
As with Tracy Chapman, all of the songs on Crossroads were again written by Chapman and this album was also the first time she took on the role of producer. As mentioned earlier, Crossroads may not have reached the commercial heights of its predecessor, but it most certainly cemented Chapman as not only an incredibly talented singer/songwriter, but someone who didn’t shy away from the discussion of politics and social inequality, paving the way for her music to educate all those that listen.