Though Tracy Chapman hasn’t had a crossover hit for years, the soulful multiple-Grammy winner’s maintained a cult audience through consistency and talent, her gorgeous, deep voice always identifiable. New album “Where You Live” (Atlantic) maintains her spirit; though it most likely won’t gain her any new mainstream fans, longtime listeners — like the ones jammed into the very full Roxy this week — will listen reverently to every word.
Surprisingly, Chapman didn’t showcase much of the new record; her band played through the single “Change” and a few others, but much was unexplored. Instead, she offered a run-through of her catalog, starting with two from her self-titled debut and hitting on a lovely “Fast Car,” a bluesy “Give Me One Reason” (doubled from its slow-course blues to a B.B. King rave) and the near-reggaeish “Talking ‘Bout a Revolution” throughout the set.
Chapman really chose to branch out with the set’s unlikely covers. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (featuring Ben Taylor, whose opening set recalled father James Taylor’s best) became a stretched-out tale of mortality. “House of the Rising Sun” went from mysterious to mournful, and as Chapman’s vocals stretched out the line “There was a house in New Orleans,” a little topical as well. The encore boasted an introspective reworking of the Cure’s “Love Song,” and a full-band, unamplified percussion romp of “Take Me to the River,” Chapman’s vocals lovingly wrapping their way around the off-kilter hand-claps.
Chapman’s surrounded herself with artists that bring out her best (bass player Nedra Wheeler, in the band just for this show, brought out the strutty swing that usually is lost in Chapman’s often-arpeggiated guitar playing), and, in doing so, hit on a performance unusual not just in its intimacy but in its freewheeling spirit as well. For a veteran artist who could have chosen to just mine her past (or promote new product), that’s not just unusual — it’s entirely commendable.