TRACY CHAPMAN. Matters of the Heart, Elektra Records
A song like the moving "Fast Car," which introduced Tracy Chapman to the world four years ago, probably comes along only once in a lifetime. It's a shame that it happened so early in Chapman's career. She may have set an impossible standard to live up to.
But after a disappointing second album, folkie Chapman does regain some lost ground on her third release. She continues to tackle societal ills with "Bang, Bang, Bang," a look at inner-city violence, and "So?," a tale of fat cats who gain at the expense of others. However, the most effective cuts here are those that look inward, such as "If These are the Things," about lost hope, and the title track, which examines the foibles of relationships. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. Human Touch, Lucky Town, Columbia Records
It's been almost five years since a new Bruce release; to make up for the drought, Springsteen delivers two albums simultaneously that can be taken individually or together. "Human Touch," the more accessible of the two, contains vibrant, rock tunes such as the wry, laconic "57 Channels," a commentary on instant gratification, and the bluesy "Soul Driver," one of three tracks to feature Sam of Sam & Dave on backing vocals.
In comparison, "Lucky Town" is a stripped down, intensely personal look at Springsteen's life since 1987's "Tunnel Of Love." Especially poetic are "If I Should Fall Behind," which addresses his recent marriage to Patti Scialfa in a loving, yet unsentimental way, and "Living Proof," about his son's birth. Should things sound a little too cheery, cuts like "The Big Muddy" and "Souls of the Departed" show the term "happily ever after" still isn't in Springsteen's vocabulary.