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When singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading came to Durham's Carolina Theatre earlier this year, a friend asked who she was. The reply: "She was Tracy Chapman before Tracy Chapman." This cleared things up.

On Sept. 20, fans will get a taste of Armatrading's legacy when Tracy Chapman comes to Raleigh's The Ritz as part of her Telling Stories tour. Maybe your last memory of Chapman was her 1988 debut, which included the track "Fast Car," in which she sung dispassionately (and somehow passionately) about searching for a destination.

Since then, Chapman has grown out her dreadlocks and her repertoire. In 1996, the New Beginning album produced the sassy "Give Me a Reason" and songs of love--unrequited, love gone wrong and love of the earth.

Whether Tracy Chapman focuses on cuts from her 2000 release Telling Stories or plays her standards, The Ritz show is not to be missed: an intimate venue for a performer who has star quality but avoids the unpleasant state called "divadom," and who recognizes the imperfections and injustices of the world but doesn't drag ya down. Even her glummest lyrics bring you up.

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