I played Tracy Chapman’s self-titled debut a lot when it was released in 1988.
I had a few weeks to get through John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath for a summer reading assignment in high school. Tracy Chapman served as a soundtrack to my reading. I wouldn’t have gotten through it otherwise.
The album grew on me as a result, but I wasn’t quite convinced I wanted to be a Tracy Chapman fan in the long term. Crossroads arrived a year later, and all the reviews I read at the time gave it damning praise: more of the same as the previous album, perhaps a bit more dour.
So I passed on it.
The last few years of flipping through vinyl stacks would bring Crossroads to my attention time and again, and each encounter would get me more curious.
First, I love the cover. It’s a striking photo of Chapman, more strident than the washed out sepia portrait of her debut. Also, the album’s modest success makes it a bargain on the second-hand market.
My decisive encounter with Crossroads would be at Everyday Music. I finally brought it to the in-store player to give it a sample and discovered Emmylou Harris had covered “All That You Have Is Your Soul” on All That I Intended to Be. That was endorsement enough for me.
The reviews were right — Crossroads picks up where Tracy Chapman left off, but the critics were wrong to imply that was a fault of the album. Chapman’s writing chops remained sharp, perhaps even getting a bit tender.
While Tracy Chapman is in a league of its own, Crossroads is just as enjoyable as her 1995 album New Beginnings. If anything, these three albums constitute her essential works.