Spartan sameness

For the past 15 years, Tracy Chapman and Enya have shared one certainty — their music doesn’t change much from album to album.

Chapman is still writing the same understated folk music that introduced her to listeners back in 1988. Half of her six albums were produced by the same guy (David Kershenbaum).

So does John Parish (obligatory name-dropping: PJ Harvey, Giant Sand) bring anything new to Chapman’s distinct vocal tremble and folkie strumming? It’s not so obvious at first.

Let It Rain starts off predictably enough — Chapman, guitar, minimal percussion, subtle arrangements. So far, so good.

It’s not until Chapman’s ghostly backing vocals takes charge of “In the Dark” that it becomes noticeable — Parish has pared down Chapman’s songs ever further than they already are.

Compared to the vibrant New Beginnings and the thoroughly-produced Telling Stories, Let It Rain is economic, almost Spartan.

“Another Sun” ambles along with little more than a backbeat, an electric piano and a few slides on an electric guitar. Strings provide “Almost” an eerie drone.

This kind of minimalism isn’t new for Chapman, whose songs are generally associated with the adjective “introspective”.

This time around, there’s a palpable intimacy on Let It Rain that didn’t seem so immediate on the last two albums. Parish’s production is dry, employing little reverb, even when electric pianos hold down the sustain pedals. As such, what few instruments are used on each track feel compact.

The only thing not downsized are Chapman’s backing vocals. They’re just as full and resonant on this album as any other.

Chapman does attempt to shake herself lose from the introspection with “Hallelujah” and “You’re the One”, both the only major missteps on the album. “You’re the One”, in particular, doles out some pretty pedestrian sentiments (I love you, don’t change).

Of course, all these subtleties are exactly that. On the whole, there’s not much on Let It Rain to surprise listeners familiar with Chapman’s modus operandi.