"Where You Live"
"Another Run Around the Sun"
Tchad Blake, the producer-engineer who has applied his unlikely blend of psychedelia and minimalism to everyone from Los Lobos to Elvis Costello, has co-produced the new Tracy Chapman album, "Where You Live." It's an inspired collaboration, for Blake keeps the focus on the stripped-down sound of Chapman's folk 'n' soul voice and her acoustic guitar even as he adds odd, discreet touches of treated guitars and keyboards at the margins. These nearly subliminal embellishments breathe new life into Chapman's sound, which has barely changed in the 17 years since she first burst on the scene with the hit song "Fast Car" in 1988.
Chapman's lyrics remain as minimalist as her music; she still writes compact, vernacular phrases that imply far more than they state. These 11 new songs, written between 2001 and 2005, tackle romantic jealousy ("Love's Proof"), U.S. imperialism ("America"), romantic scorn ("Never Yours"), sexism ("3,000 Miles") and romantic optimism ("Don't Dwell"). Blake's frequent partner Mitchell Froom and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea lend a chorus punch to the first single, "Change," but the most interesting songs are "Going Back" and "Before Easter," where the wordplay and ambivalence match the strangeness of Blake's arrangements.
On his first full-length album, 2003's "Famous Among the Barns," Ben Taylor tried to separate himself from his celebrity parents, James Taylor and Carly Simon, by adopting a late-'60s rock sound, often imitating his dad's former label mates at Apple Records. But Ben's combination of Carolina drawl and Massachusetts burr sounded so much like his dad's that the youngster realized there was no escaping his background. So he made his second album, "Another Run Around the Sun," in his father's soft-rock, singer-songwriter style.
The vocals and production are spot-on, providing the genuine pleasures of that genre. The songwriting, however, is seriously lacking -- too few memorable phrases, too many cliches and awkward constructions. Typical is the lead-off track, "Nothing I Can Do," which is grammatically illogical when it's not sentimentally trite and melodically derivative when it's not rhythmically dull.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Monday at the 9:30 club.