Mary Chapin Carpenter
SOMETIMES JUST THE SKY
Lambent Light Records/Thirty Tigers
A Bleakly Beautiful Re-Imagining of More Carefree Times.
If you were to ask either Mrs Magpie or myself we would very quickly telly you we were Mary Chapin Carpenter fans; and we are with a gig in Glasgow being in our mutual Top 10 of all time, and my wife even took her Mother to see Mary at Newcastle City Hall one evening when I was stuck in London; plus we own 10 of her previous 12 albums as well as Party Doll being a fixture in her car for nearly twenty years; yet……and this pains me……this album; like her last three has been ‘challenging’ to say the least.
The concept of another Mary Chapin Carpenter retrospective excited both of us; especially as it would be a re-imagining of a song from each of those 12 albums.
What could possibly go wrong?
On the one hand absolutely nothing; if you like Mary’s deep, dark and mystical last half dozen releases, but if (like me) you prefer her earlier feistier and up tempo work; quite a bit actually.
In it’s praise the Ethan John’s pin sharp production and orchestration is outstanding; giving Superman and Jericho an almost ethereal feel to them; and What Does It Mean To Travel becomes wistful and poetic with Mary virtually whispering her words to no one in particular; but perhaps herself.
Most of Ms Carpenter’s more commercial and famous songs aren’t here; and that seems deliberate, as the ones that are Heros And Heroines and The Moon and St Christopher for example are both now structured to become very sad and delicate as the singer looks back on happier times from afar; which they both probably always were but now Mary is a lot older than the woman who wrote these songs; but the sentiment in both is even more pertinent now than it was then.
Perhaps that’s why I found this album so difficult to ‘like’…….I want my Mary Chapin Carpenter to still be 27 ……and me too; but she isn’t and nor am I any more, which is why this song is even more beautiful than you will remember.
The title track Sometimes Just The Sky is the only new song here and the spark of which came from an interview with Patti Smith; and in it’s own way could be one of Mary’s finest songs of the last twenty years.
An all pervading mellow mood permeates throughout this album; but as I said earlier, none of us are getting any younger and now I finally ‘get it’ and can comfortably pick out two really special songs as RMHQ ‘Favourites’, the first is a long term favourite here and this version of This Shirt takes on a whole new meaning as the singer whispers new life into her words of love in a way I could never imagine; and will touch the hearts of many listeners who have lost a loved one in recent years rather than the relationship breakdowns that we all lived through many years ago.
The other is a song I barely remembered never mind recognised; even though Rhythm of the Blues comes from the first of the singers albums I ever bought COME ON, COME ON. This is interpretation so gut wrenching; I haven’t been able to go back to the original to do a ‘compare and contrast.’
I stand by my original feelings to some degree, as the mood here is quite bleak and never gets beyond a strolling pace; but yet again that’s what I do more of these days unlike when I was a frisky young man drinking and dancing to Passionate Kisses and Shut Up and Kiss Me at the wild parties of my youth; and those albums are still on the shelf for when I want to pretend I’m still a young man.
SOMETIMES JUST THE SKY is what is, a rather beautiful look back and re-imagining of better, more carefree times but with the benefit of hindsight……and rose coloured glasses.
Released March 30th 2018