Mary Chapin Carpenter
Mary Chapin Carpenter "Hometown Girl" (Columbia, 1987)
Despite a promising sorta-neotrad start (the plinky piano and sprightly mandolin on "A Lot Like Me" pleasantly cutting through the tinkly synths that dominated '80s Nashville production), this disc quickly devolves into a syrupy, folkish outing, only a step or two removed from the overly-artful wimmins-music pop of Melissa Etheredge and Holly Near. Overall, MCC seems a bit stuffy, like someone whose musical sympathies feel right (tilting towards old-fashioned, real country) but whose delivery and aesthetic sensibility seems hopelessly mannered and overly-crafted... Even a cover of the Tom Waits song, "Downtown Train," sinks into sheer torpor. Plus, I guess I'm not really that fond of Chapin's slurry, husky voice; Nanci Griffith heads in a similar direction, stylewise, but does it with a much lighter, more appealing touch.
Mary Chapin Carpenter "State Of The Heart" (Columbia, 1989)
Well, as these thing go, MCC ain't so bad, at least when compared to most of her Nashville contemporaries. Still, this album is a bit stuffy and overly-serious, overly self-conscious of her role as the thinking woman's country star. She tries to balance the sappy stuff with more upbeat material, although none of it is as groovy or as catchy as her version of Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses," the one great song she ever recorded. Guiarist John Jennings does a good job producing this album, but there's definitely a Crystal Gayle-ish pall that hangs over most of the songs. "Quittin' Time," right square in the middle of the disc, is defintely the album's highlight.
Mary Chapin Carpenter "Shootin' Straight In The Dark" (Columbia, 1990)
Her stylistic (and vocal) similarity to Rosanne Cash is so strong on the opening track, "Going Out Tonight," that you may have to check the credits just to make sure it's not really a duet with Rosanne, or something. Producer John Jennings signature touch gives way to a much more upbeat album, much less plodding and overly-serious in general, and poppy, rather than ballad-heavy. Again, a lively start slows into an arty album, but her husky voice is put to better use, and the material is more varied and lively... fun even, on a few tunes. Sure sounds a lot like Rosanne, though!
Mary-Chapin Carpenter "Come On, Come On" (Columbia, 1990)
(Produced by John Jennings & Mary-Chapin Carpenter)
Mary-Chapin Carpenter "Stones In The Road" (Columbia, 1994)
Blechh! Honestly, MCC gives me a sweet pain... I mean, her songwriting may (possibly) be heartfelt and sincere, but it strikes me as cloying and pandering to some abstract, touchie-feelie, soccer-mom demographic; it's like the roots music equivalent of a political focus group, too calculated and lowest common denominator. Which is ironic, since she's obviously aiming to stake herself out as an intellectual... But from where I sit, this seems cloying and prefab. Also I really don't like her stuffy, overly-honied voice, or the goopy arrangements she drapes herself in. I guess my trouble may be that I'm trying to assess this stuff in terms of it being "country music," when in fact it's just syrupy lullabies for troubled yuppies. If I left her off my radar entirely, I'm sure everyone would be happier.
Mary Chapin Carpenter "A Place In The World" (Columbia, 1996)
Mary Chapin Carpenter "Party Doll" (Columbia, 1999)
A generously programmed sort-of best-of, which includes five "new" live tracks (including a Superbowl appearance, if you can believe it!), several new songs, and a handful of past hits... Probably the best way to check her out, as well as being a nice new collection for longtime fans -- one of her most vigorous and lively albums!
Mary Chapin Carpenter "Time*Sex*Love" (Columbia, 2001)
Nary a twang to be heard on this pop-heavy outing, but plenty of Beach Boys-meet-Melissa Etheridge, bouncily melodic would-be profundities. If you'd hung with her this far, I'm sure this album is lots of fun. But if you're looking for something that sounds even remotely "country," fugeddaboudit, kiddo.
Mary Chapin Carpenter "Between Here And Gone" (Columbia, 2004)
More of the same from MCC. This album opens with promise, a few of her more compact, engaging songs of recent vintage, but steadily devolves into more mopey, world-weary, folkie-confessional tunes, mostly fairly nondescript stuff, but hitting a low with the drearily self-pitying Lonely Hearts Club ballad, "Girls Like Me." I mean... oh come on! Boo-hoo! Is there really a woman left in America who is that much of an emotional doormat? Maybe so, but this song does not redeem their lonely nights... it's just another tedious Chapin Carpenter creative writing exercise, as far as I can tell. As her albums go, this one's fairly strong, but it's still not really my cup of tea.
Mary Chapin Carpenter "The Calling" (Rounder/Zoe, 2007)
Mary Chapin Carpenter "Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs Of Christmas" (Rounder/Zoe, 2008)
(Also see my Country Christmas section.)
Mary Chapin Carpenter "Ashes And Roses" (Rounder/Zoe Records, 2012)
Mary Chapin Carpenter "The Essential Mary Chapin Carpenter" (Sony-Legacy, 2003)
Hick Music Index