Forget that Tracy Chapman's fifth album shares a title with the Charlatans UK's fifth album (and sole masterpiece) Telling Stories -- as far any fan knows, Chapman probably isn't even aware of the Madchester group's existence. Instead, it should be viewed as what it is -- the sequel to New Beginning, the album that reaffirmed Chapman's status as a fine singer/songwriter to a wide audience. That record became a hit thanks to a bluesy, hooky cut called "Give Me One Reason." Telling Stories, as the title suggests, leans toward narratives, but not necessarily in the conventional sense of the term. There are no story songs, in the way that "Fast Car" was a story. Instead, they are emotional, poetic snapshots -- sort of like the musical equivalent of a dense, impressionistic short story. Chapman's songs on Telling Stories may not be as packed with detail as, say, Raymond Carver's work, but they certainly have a way of creating impressionistic lyrics, making short lines mean a lot. Also, the last album taught her a valuable lesson: her lyrics can be rich, but her compositions won't work collectively as a record if she doesn't craft melodic songs and warm productions. That's exactly what she delivers on Telling Stories. Some may think she does this to a fault -- it's easy to coast on the sound of the record without digging into the lyrics -- but the end result is basically the same: a strong, appealing collection of sturdy, tuneful, and evocative songs. This album may not sparkle with genius, as her debut did, nor is it as direct as its predecessor, but it's a strong, solid record that maintains Chapman's reputation as a reliably intriguing and substantive singer/songwriter.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Emmylou Harris