Tracy Chapman is talking about “Our Bright Future”

Can you believe it’s been 20 years since Tracy Chapman first took us for a ride in her “Fast Car”? And, before you tell me you weren’t even born yet, you at least have to have heard her “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution,” right? Now the soft-spoken singer-songwriter who lets her lyrics do the talking is back with her eighth studio album, Our Bright Future.

Out today, the release is her first in three years and, despite what the title may say, it’s not all sunshine and poppies. Instead in numbers like the title song, Tracy sings in her voice that is equal parts guts and grace that we’ve been “Led on led on/ to take the path/ where our bright future/ is in the past.”

In a recent interview with UK paper The Guardian (hat tip, Jenni!), the out artist talked about everything from growing up poor in Cleveland (“I always loved school and thought it was my way out of Cleveland, and out of poverty”) to how the record company treated her as a 24-year-old with her first contract (“you’re young, you’re inexperienced, you’re a woman even, what do you know about any of this?”) and even, yes, the Material Girl herself.

I was trying to make a case for Madonna the other day, saying that she’s to be admired for her longevity in a genre that has mostly been for younger acts. Men are able to sustain a career into their 50s and 60s and still present themselves as sex symbols. With women on the other hand, people say, ‘Why doesn’t she retire?’ It’s just so unfair. So I have to give props to Madonna.

Props also go to Tracy who, as a Barack Obama supporter, was still angered by the sometimes sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton. A longtime supporter of such causes as Amnesty International, AIDS research and anti-war groups, Tracy was not shy about her feminist leanings.

I think it just doesn’t come up because … people think we’re beyond it. There have been some gains made in terms of more equality for women in the workplace and in the way the legal system deals with issues of violence against women…..Taking the recent campaign for the (Democratic presidential) nomination, if you look at the way Hillary Clinton was treated compared with Barack Obama, there seemed to be a double standard. People would make comments on what she was wearing all the time, saying that she was too emotional, even hysterical, and therefore unfit to be commander in chief. Yes, we still need to have a discussion and there needs to be improvement.

While Tracy is happy to talk about politics or humanitarian issues, her new album isn’t all topical. In an appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno last week, Tracy sang the album’s first single, Sing For You, about a lost love. As a fan of Tracy’s for those 20 years, it’s been a privilege to watch her passion all these years. And I can’t be the only one is struck by her seeming discovery of the fountain of youth.

Perhaps speaking softly and carrying a big guitar is the secret to eternal youth. At the very least, I know it’s the recipe for some damn good music.

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