Mary Chapin Carpenter has released sixteen albums between 1987 and 2020. For a time in the 1990’s, she was very popular, with her albums reaching Top ten status in the U.S. country charts. Her fourth album, “Come On Come On”, sold over 4 million copies in the U.S. Her fifth album, “Stones In The Road”, peaked at Number 10 in the U.S. National Charts. Her first album was a folk album and many of her subsequent albums could be classified as country. “State Of The Heart” was her second album. I love her singing, her songwriting and the heartland rock musical setting. Roo and I saw her at a matinee performance on Valentines Day in 1993 at the Victoria Palace Theatre. Lucinda Williams was the support act.
One of the best things about Mary Chapin’s songwriting is the directness of the lyrics. Whereas Joe Henry or Townes van Zandt have forged a relationship as great songwriters by being obtuse, it’s very clear what she is singing about. In “How Do“, a new man in town has caught her eye and she hopes her feelings are reciprocated. It’s the most obvious country song on the album with a fast tempo and great fiddle playing from Rickie Simpkins (of The Lonesome River Band).
In contrast “Something Of A Dreamer” is a classic singer-songwriter tale of self recrimination. Having fallen for the boy in the previous song, she realises that her romantic nature has led her into heartbreak, now he has gone. The tone is sadder and the music is more reflective.
“Never Had It So Good” is a brilliant mid-tempo rock song in which her man is now back with his previous girlfriend. He is happy and she is sad. he has never had it so good and she has never had it so bad. Her singing on this song is strong, emotional and angry. I started listening to her music at about the same time that I first heard Nanci Griffith and they both have voices that can easily switch between sad, angry, mournful, bitter, happy but never weak. The music includes great electric guitar playing from John Jennings, who produced eight of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s albums.
In “Read My Lips“, she is travelling to meet up with her lover and she is apprehensive in case his feelings for her are not as strong as they were. Her invocation to read her lips indicates a verbal and physical reconciliation awaits.
“This Shirt” is a song about a shirt and is much more affecting than it sounds. During the course of the song, Mary Chapin Carpenter recalls different places and times that she wore the shirt. She wore it to a high school dance, she used it as a pillow on a train in Italy and it was left on a train in Buffalo. She loaned it to her lover who ripped it, rolling a cigarette. His cat gave birth to five kittens on it. She still wears it when cleaning her house and raking leaves. It’s “so old I should replace it but I’m not about to try”. It’s got a sad feel to it but the lyrics are genuinely uplifting.
Side One ends with another mid-tempo song, “Quittin’ Time“. Another relationship is coming to an end. “You pretend and I pretend that everything is fine and though we should be at an end, it’s so hard admittin’ when it’s quittin’ time” There is more great musicianship with yet another great electric guitar solo from John Jennings.
I ‘m playing this album on my underused turntable and listening to Side One, with the variety of songs, reminds me that a vinyl record is a wonderful way to listen to music. After the twenty minutes are up and I’ve listened to six great songs, I’m left wanting more. Shall I turn the record over or play this side again?