Sunday, May 14, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1642: Mary Chapin Carpenter

Happy Mother’s Day! That’s for the mothers reading the blog. Non-mothers, this is just another Sunday for you. If you are lucky enough to have a mother and you love her, give her a call and tell her so.

My crazy work schedule next week means I won’t have time to write another review for a while. With this in mind I got up early today and just sat and listened to this next record so I could review it now and thus, dear reader, provide you the content you most assuredly crave.

Here you go…

Disc 1642 is…The Dirt and the Stars

Artist: Mary Chapin Carpenter

Year of Release: 2020

What’s up with the Cover?  Giant Head Cover alert! This is more of a Giant Hair Cover, as Mary Chapin Carpenter has turned away from the camera. Perhaps she was laughing about something, or maybe she had to sneeze. This album did come out during COVID so turning away to sneeze would have been very important.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve been listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter for decades, and this was just me buying her new album and hoping it was a good one.

How It Stacks Up: I have nine of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 16 albums (I only buy the ones I like). Of those nine, “The Dirt and the Stars” ranks at #9. Something had to be last.

Rating: 2 stars

Mary Chapin Carpenter has aged into her music a lot like Mark Knopfler, with each record feeling more and more laid back. On “The Dirt and the Stars” Carpenter is so chilled out you can imagine she sang the whole thing lying down.

At this stage of her career, Carpenter also shares something with Iron Maiden. Like them, she’s secure enough in her career that she makes her records as long and self-indulgent as she wishes, confident her fans will follow.

Which brings us to “The Dirt and the Stars,” which while only having 11 songs fills almost a full hour of music and seems in no hurry to resolve itself. Three songs clock in at around six minutes, and a fourth that goes north of seven. Unfortunately, in every case but one these songs would have benefited from a bit more judicious editing.

The worst of the bunch is “American Stooge” which tries to de-chill the album out midway through, with a bit of “Money for Nothing” style electric guitar. Unfortunately it never progresses musically and takes a long time not doing so. The piano noodling in the middle is particularly annoying.

Much better is Carpenter’s guitar work throughout. She takes on acoustic duties, and her light and relaxed plucking grounds the songs. My favourite song on the record is the opener, “Farther Along and Further In” which has that meandering songwriting quality that Carpenter does as well or better than anyone. Think of floating along a slow-moving river with a lot of bends, and no rapids. That’s “Farther Along and Further In”. I wish I could say the record had many others equally good but alas, it does not.

While the electric guitar is hit and miss, at the end of the record the title track partially redeems a lot of the previous decisions with a delightful and suitably restrained noodle. Think lesser version of the end of Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” or Blue Rodeo’s “Five Days in May” and you’ll have an idea. It makes the song completely unsuitable for radio of course, but when did that ever matter on this blog? Never, my friends.

Even though she was well into her sixties when she recorded this album, Carpenter’s voice and tone are as beautiful as ever. She has a low alto that is smooth as silk, and likely the reason I bought this record despite the songs not being as compelling as some of her other work. Hearing Carpenter sing is good for the soul.

But then I realized that I had eight other albums where I can hear her sing, and I like all those records better. And with that revelation, I made the easy decision to part with this record and send it along to a home where it will get more love and playtime than I can offer.

Best tracks: Farther Along and Further In

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