Mary Chapin Carpenter
The Dirt and the Stars
Lambent Light Records (via Thirty Tigers)
Beautiful Songs About The Aches and Pains of a Very Fragile Soul.
Five time Grammy winner Mary Chapin Carpenters 15th. Studio album is her first collection of all-new material since 2016’s Dave Cobb produced “The Things That We Are Made Of”. As far as female singer-songwriters are concerned she is without doubt one of the most successful alive today and indeed has consistently been so over the last 30 odd years.
Fact is, my wife and I have seen Mary in concert on numerous occasions and the ‘Chief Operating Officer’ of this household religiously follows Mary’s ‘Virtual Concert’ series that she puts out on Social Media entitled “Songs From Home,” which is filmed at her beautiful home in rural Virginia.
The new album was written at that remote farmhouse, but then recorded here in England at Peter Gabriel’s real World Studio near Bath and produced by the highly experienced and very successful Ethan John.
The Dirt and the Stars contains 11 new compositions and follows the winning formula which Mary’s fans have become accustomed to hearing over the years. Sometimes difficult subject matters are covered, without any sugar-coating and often coming from a pain with an almost insular perspective.
This particular set of songs are not for the faint-hearted.
In many ways they are poems and personal stories set to music and therefore the words are so much more relevant than the music. Although, most of the melodies are typically enchanting with slow walking, tortoise paced, laid-back tempos which create a sense of relaxation, until you actually listen to what the lyrics are covering.
“Farther Along and Further In” is the opening track, clearly recognising the gradual, sometime distinct, changes that hit everyone as we grow older, whilst “Nocturn” follows the same casual, pedestrian path.
The title track probably tells the best story, recalling a time when the confusion of youthful innocence perplexes and confounds even the clearest of thinkers. Deliberately fusing in the melody from the classic Jagger & Richards’ Wild Horses to transplant us all back to her 17th. summer.
As well as the best story, this track also has a terrific solo from Mary’s long-time guitarist, Duke Levine, conjuring up a single car driving into the sunset, down a long lost highway.
“Asking for a Friend” is a deep, dark introspective and soul searching inquest regarding another failed relationship but cleverly using the modern vernacular of the ‘pretend friend’, then “Old D-35” is all about her faithful, iconic, Martin acoustic guitar.
The one song that kinda breaks the mould and stands head and shoulders above the other 10 tracks for me is the politically themed pot-shot “American Stooge”.
Apparently, this clunky uptempo song is all about a candidate who ran for President, lost the race then turned into one of his winning opponents side kicks, not just defending the other sides ideology but metamorphosing into a yes-man, even a lackey, indeed ……. a stooge.
In summary, it sure wasn’t an easy album to review, knowing and loving her previous catalogue of music as well as I do, enjoying all those superb live concerts here in England and having several family members who all hold MCC is such high esteem.
Yes, the music is beautiful, yes the songs are well structured and oh so superbly played, but be prepared to palpably feel the aches and pains of a very fragile soul.