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Mary Chapin Carpenter


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Country rock, folk/rock, country/folk

Status:

Most recent album, Things That We Are Made Of (2016)

See also:

Mary Chapin Carpenter's site

Comparisons:

Patty Larkin, Shawn Colvin, Carrie Newcomer, Indigo Girls

Covers/own material:

Mainly writes or occasionally co-writes her own songs; some covers

General comments:

Mary Chapin Carpenter always finds a way to express the truth at the heart of the matter. From gentle ballads describing the smallest details of everyday life to uptempo songs guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and set your feet tapping, Chapin explores fearlessly the territory of the heart, and proves again and again why she has been one of the leading women artists on the U.S. country/folk scene for more than ten years. (Sherlyn.Koo)

She's classified for the most part as a country music artist, but like most really interesting musicians, she overlaps genres and is not limited to C&W. She is in my opinion very ecto-friendly. Some of the songs are very well-written stories. I like to compare her a little bit to Bonnie Raitt, not only in style, but in the way that it's difficult to categorize the music. (Hiptones@worldnet.att.net)

Live, Mary Chapin Carpenter was great. i can understand if you had a low tolerance of twang and country you might not enjoy her, but i loved it. i instantly like her, she was really endearing. she also did "passionate kisses" which is a great song. (iflin@speakeasy.net)

Recommended first album:

Come On Come On or The Calling. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Recordings:


Hometown Girl

Release info:

1987—Columbia—40758

Availability:

Available worldwide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for country fans

Produced by:

John Jennings

Comments:

Mary Chapin Carpenter's debut album is a pleasant although not particularly memorable country album, mostly full of the kind of gentle ballads about life and love that Chapin does so well, all delivered in her lovely, wholesome voice. Highlights include the upbeat opening track "A Lot Like Me", about a man whom Carpenter met while singing in a bar; the title tune "Hometown Girl", and "Just Because", which muses on the mysteries of love ("Have you ever loved someone, just because?"). (Sherlyn.Koo)

State of the Heart

Release info:

1989—Columbia—CK44228

Availability:

Available worldwide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for country/rock fans

Group members:

Mary Chapin Carpenter—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Mike Auldridge—dobro, pedal steel
Peter Bonta—acoustic guitar, accordion, keyboards
Jon Carroll—organ, keyboards, piano
Shawn Colvin—vocals
Steven Day—strings
Tommy Hannum—pedal steel
John Jennings—electric guitar, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, vocals, bass, piano
Robbie Magruder—drums, percussion
Kim Miller—strings
Bruce Myers—vocals
Rico Petruccelli—bass, fretless bass
David Premo—strings
Rickie Simpkins—fiddle, mandolin
William Zsembery—french horn

Produced by:

John Jennings and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Comments:

No pretensions here, just good old-fashioned country rock. The upbeat numbers include the rowdy playfulness of the opener "How Do" and the rockin' country of "Never Had It So Good" and "Quittin' Time", but perhaps the best song on the album is the ballad "This Shirt", which tells the story of an "old faded piece of cotton" and all the memories it holds. Chapin's songcrafting and ability to convey big feelings through the smallest details shine through especially on this track. Overall, an excellent album—one great song after another. Highly recommended. (Sherlyn.Koo)

I really enjoy this disc—my first introduction to her. They probably call her New Nashville or some other nonsense, but it sounds almost like a mildly twangy old folk album. It's one of those albums where things sound immediately familiar after one or two listens, but not old and tired, sort of like old standards. The first song is a rollicking lively track that makes her sound like she could be Johnny Cash's daughter (in concept, it doesn't sound like Roseanne Cash at all). There are a number of quick-paced fiddle driven tracks as well as nice reflective songs. Her voice was deeper and richer than I expected (I guess I was thinking along the lines of Nanci Griffith, but it's more akin to maybe Lucinda Williams, though not as rocky and not as twangy). It's a good folk album with a very light country influence. (neal)


Shooting Straight in the Dark

Release info:

1990—Columbia—46077 (US), 467468 (Australia)

Availability:

Available worldwide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for country/rock fans

Group members:

Mary Chapin Carpenter—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Peter Bonta—keyboards, acoustic guitar, piano
Jimmy Breaux (Beausoleil)—accordion
Jon Carroll—piano
Shawn Colvin—vocals
Mike Cotter—vocals
Don Dixon—bass, vocals
Michael Doucet (Beausoleil)—fiddle
John Jennings—bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, vocals
Marti Jones—vocals
John McCutcheon—hammer dulcimer
Robbie Magruder—drums
Mark O'Connor—fiddle
Dave Palamar—drums
Herb Pedersen—vocals
Rico Petruccelli—bass
Matt Rollings—piano
Vince Santoro—drums
Billy Ware (Beausoleil)—percussion

Produced by:

John Jennings and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Comments:

Another solid album, again produced by Carpenter and longtime band member and sidekick John Jennings. You can't help but think that Carpenter went through some kind of heartbreak while writing for this album; most of the songs are of the this-love-ain't-working ("What You Didn't Say", "Can't Take Love for Granted") or the I'm-gettin'-over-you variety ("Going Out Tonight", "The More Things Change"). But then again, both those subjects are typical country music fare, so perhaps not. At any rate, Carpenter manages to mainly avoid the trap of self-pity that many country writers seem to fall into. Especial highlights of the album include the Cajun-flavoured, guaranteed-to-get-you-dancing-along "Down at the Twist and Shout" (with added authenticity from guests Beausoleil), "Halley Came to Jackson" and the quietly sad "The Moon and St Christopher", one of Chapin's best ballads. Recommended. (Sherlyn.Koo)

Come On Come On

Release info:

1992—Columbia—48881 (US), 4718982 (Australia)

Availability:

Available worldwide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for country/rock fans

Group members:

Mary Chapin Carpenter—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

J.T. Brown—bass, vocals
Jon Carroll—synthesizer, piano, vocals
Rosanne Cash—vocals
Shawn Colvin—vocals
Denny Dadmum-Bixby—bass
Joe Diffie—vocals
Jerry Douglas—dobro
Paul Franklin—pedal steel
Bob Glaub—bass
John Jarvis—piano
John Jennings—electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, percussion, vocals
John Jorgenson—electric guitar
Mike McAdam—electric guitar, tremolo guitar
Robbie Magruder—drums
Edgar Meyer—double bass
Andy Newmark—drums
Amy Ray (Indigo Girls)—vocals
Matt Rollings—piano
Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls)—vocals
Benmont Tench—Hammond organ

Produced by:

John Jennings and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Comments:

A fine album, generally much more upbeat and with a much fuller "produced" (read "crossover mainstream", not that that's a bad thing) sound than any of Chapin's previous work. Standout tracks include the quirky "I Feel Lucky", in which our heroine stays home from work, wins the lottery and ends up flirting with Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakam; a cover of Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses"; and Carpenter's first #1 single "He Thinks He'll Keep Her", which explores the motivations of a woman who leaves her husband of fifteen years to join "the typing pool at minimum wage". Including backing vocals from (among others) Shawn Colvin and both of the Indigo Girls, this is country/rock at its best. (Sherlyn.Koo)

"I Feel Lucky" doesn't seem country at all, more blues/rock. "The Bug" is a hybrid of blues with a dash of country—I thought it was a really cool version of what I believe to be a Dire Straits tune. All in all, I remember liking the album a lot. I never got around to buying it, but I would recommend it to others (kinda weird, huh?). There are a lot of folk sounds to be had here. (Hiptones@worldnet.att.net)


Stones in the Road

Release info:

1994—Columbia—64327 (US) 477278 2 (Australia)

Availability:

Available worldwide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for country/folk fans

Group members:

Mary Chapin Carpenter—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Kenny Aronoff—drums, percussion
Paul Brady—tin whistle, vocals
J.T. Brown—fretless bass, bass
Jon Carroll—piano, accordion
Shawn Colvin—vocals
Don Dixon—bass, Arco bass
Stuart Duncan—fiddle, mandolin
John Jennings—acoustic guitar, electric guitar, baritone guitar, beach guitar, percussion, Hammond C-3 organ, cowbell, piano, vocals
Robbie Magruder—drums
Branford Marsalis—soprano saxophone
Alan O'Bryant—vocals
Lee Roy Parnell—electric slide guitar
Matt Rollings—piano
Steuart Smith—electric guitar
Benmont Tench—Hammond C-3 organ, piano
Linda Williams—vocals
Robin Williams—vocals
Trisha Yearwood—vocals

Produced by:

John Jennings and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Comments:

Yet another excellent effort by Mary Chapin Carpenter, who shows that she is certainly not afraid to use music to tackle big issues. "John Doe No. 24" tells the life story, as Chapin imagines it, of a deaf and blind man who lived and died, nameless, in an Illinois mental institution. The title track describes the way that materialism has replaced patriotism and compassion in the post-war generation. But even under such deep subject matter, there is hope. The album's opening track, "Why Walk When You Can Fly", is unashamedly optimistic even in a world full of trouble and pain; "Jubilee" is about the power of love and friendship. Other highlights include the fun and funny "Shut Up and Kiss Me" and "The Last Word", an excellent addition to the field of "We're through" songs. Definitely recommended, especially for fans of country/folk. (Sherlyn.Koo)

A Place in the World

Release info:

1996—Columbia—67501 (US), 485185 2 (Australia)

Availability:

Available worldwide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans

Group members:

Mary Chapin Carpenter—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Pete Barenbregge—tenor saxophone
J.T. Brown—vocals
Jon Carroll—piano, accordion, vocals
Shawn Colvin—vocals
Mike Crolly—baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone
Bob Glaub—bass
Rich Haering—trumpet
John Jennings—bass, fretless bass, electric baritone guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, synthesizer, organ, backpacker, lap steel, percussion, vocals
Duke Levine—electric guitar, mandola
Robbie Magruder—drums
Dave Mattacks—drums, tambourine
Kim Richey—vocals
Harry Stinson—drums, cowbell
Benmont Tench—electric piano, piano, organ

Produced by:

John Jennings and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Comments:

A Place in the World is a pleasant enough album although overall it seems to only display flashes of the brilliance displayed by Carpenter on her previous two albums. Highlights include the catchy "Keeping the Faith" and the gentle "Ideas Are Like Stars"; other tracks like "Hero in Your Own Hometown" are somewhat overproduced ("Hero" in particular shows great promise lyrically but the message of the lyrics is somewhat lost amidst an over-elaborate arrangement). Not a bad album, but not Carpenter's best work either. (Sherlyn.Koo)

Between Here and Gone

Release info:

2004—Columbia Records—CK 92429

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Mary Chapin Carpenter—vocals, background vocals, acoustic guitar, Leslie guitar

Guest artists:

Chad Cromwell—drums
Viktor Krauss—bass
John Jennings—acoustic guitar
Dean Parks—electric guitar
Matt Rollings—keyboards
Stuart Duncan—fiddle
Rob Ickes—dobro
Eric Darken—percussion
Garrison Starr—background vocals (1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 12)
Mac MacAnally—background vocals (1, 2, 7, 9, 10, 12)
Glenn Worf—bass
Eric Silver—acoustic guitar, mandolin
Dan Dugmore—steel guitar
Tim O'Brien—mandolin
Jerry McPherson—electric guitar
Kristin Wilkinson—viola, string arrangement
Anthony Lamarchina—cello
David Angell, Mary Katherine Vanosdale—violin
Richard Bennett—electric guitar
Shannon Forrest—drums
Jennifer Kumer—French horn

Produced by:

Matt Rollings and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Comments:

It's good, I like it better than her last one. Not amazing though, I tend to find her stuff really nice but tending to sound the same. The more I listen to this the more I am liking it though. So if you like her, it's a good one. If you don't like her, this probably won't change anything.
     I am partial to this album because the title track ("Between Here and Gone") is a song inspired by the death of Dave Carter, or more specifically by the words that Tracy Grammer wrote to fans two days after Dave died. Tracy told me that Chapin asked her if she would mind if she used those words for her album title. She of course did not mind. This is the original context:
There was a look of wonder in his eyes, and though I cried and tried to deny it to him, I knew he was right and he was on his way. He stayed with me a minute more but despite my attempts to keep him with me, I could see he was already riding that thin chiffon wave between here and gone. He loved beauty, he was hopelessly drawn to the magic and the light in all things. I figure he saw something he could not resist out of the corner of his eye and flew into it.
(attribution lost)

Between Here and Gone is overall a quiet album. It's light folk-pop, a la Come On Come On, but without the country songs, though some tracks retain country influence. In mood, it is much like the slower songs from that album; it's almost all down-tempo, ballads. Though "Beautiful Racket" and "River" are notable exceptions. I think there's more variety here than may initially meet the ear, and a lot of beauty and sweetness. (JoAnn Whetsell)


The Calling

Release info:

2007—Zoë Records—01143-1111-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Mary Chapin Carpenter—vocals, acoustic guitar, guitar, background vocals

Guest artists:

Russell Kunkel—drums, cajon, percussion
Eric Darken—percussion, vibraphone
Matt Rollings—piano, B3, accordion
Glenn Worf—bass, acoustic bass
Dean Parks—acoustic guitar, electric guitars, electric 12 string
Tom "Daddy" Bukovac—electric guitars
John Jennings—background vocals (1, 2, 4, 9, 12); walkabout dulcimer, electric guitar, baritone acoustic guitar, acoustic guitar
Kat Maslich Bode (Eastmountainsouth)—background vocals (2, 6, 12)
Mac McAnally—background vocals (2, 4, 12)

Produced by:

Matt Rollings and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Comments:

Mary Chapin Carpenter's last album, Between Here and Gone, was the best album she'd made in years. But The Calling just blows it away. That's partially because it's a more up-tempo album. But there are beautiful ballads here too; they just don't feel quite so slow. Overall, in the lyrics, the playing, there's more energy, more passion, more fight. Where the last album was more reflective, The Calling is more determined, taking a stand on personal politics and philosophy. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas

Release info:

2008—Zoe Records—01143-1123-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Mary Chapin Carpenter—vocals, acoustic guitar (3, 4, 7–10), harmonies

Guest artists:

Jon Carroll—piano (1–7, 9–11)
John Jennings—piano (8, 12), bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums, percussion, accordion, harmonies

Produced by:

John Jennings and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Comments:

A gentle and peaceful album that I believe is destined to become one of my holiday favorites. It's also fresher than most Christmas albums because the material is fresher—half the songs (6 in all) are originals, 3 are covers of songs I'd never heard before, and 3 are less-often performed traditionals. Together they address peace, hope, love, solstice, Thanksgiving, and religious and cultural meanings of Christmas simply, honestly, beautifully. (JoAnn Whetsell)

The Age of Miracles

Release info:

2010—Zoe Records—01143-1133-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Mary Chapin Carpenter—vocals, acoustic guitar, background vocals

Guest artists:

Russ Kunkel—drums, percussion, shaker
Duke Levine—electric guitar, acoustic guitar, National guitar, mandola
Glenn Worf—bass, double bass
Matt Rollings—B-3 organ, piano, harmonium, Wurlitzer
Dan Dugmore—steel guitar, 12 string electric guitar
Eric Darken—percussion, vibes
Anthony Lamarchina—cello
Mac McAnally—background vocals (1, 4, 9, 11, 12)
Vince Gill—harmony vocal (3)
Alison Krauss—harmony vocal (6)
Kat Maslich-Bode (Eastmountainsouth)—background vocals (11, 12)

Produced by:

Matt Rollings & Mary Chapin Carpenter

Comments:

Doesn't quite match the greatness of The Calling, but that album will likely stand as the pinnacle of her career, in other words, a lofty comparison mark. The Age of Miracles is probably about on par with Between Here and Gone. It starts out with a bang, fumbles a little in the middle, but gets back on track with the brilliant title track and the final song, which sends you off itching for a road trip. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Ashes and Roses

Release info:

2012—Zoë—01143-1150-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Mary Chapin Carpenter—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Russ Kunkel—drums, tambourine, foot, shaker, percussion
Glenn Worf—bass, upright bass
Matt Rollings—piano, B3, accordion, harmonium
Duke Levine—mandocello, electric guitars, resonator, mandolin
Eric Darken—percussion, cajon, shaker, bass drum, glockenspiel
Mac McAnally—background vocals (1, 3–5, 7–9)
Kim Keys—background vocals (5)
James Taylor—acoustic guitar, duet vocal and harmonies (9)

Produced by:

Matt Rollings and Mary Chapin Carpenter

Comments:

Songs of love and loss, of looking back and moving forward. A thoroughly beautiful album, similar in style to The Calling and The Age Of Miracles. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Songs From the Movie

Release info:

2014—Zoë Records—01143-1147-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Medium-low

Group members:

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Guest artists:

Vince Mendoza—orchestra arrangements and conducting
Thomas Bowes, Emlyn Singleton, Patrick Kiernan, Julian Leaper, Boguslaw Kostecki, Dave Woodcock, John Badbury, Chris Tombling, Maciej Rakowski, Mark Berrow, Jonathan Rees, Jonathan Evans-Jones, Debbie Widdup, Paul Willey, Cathy Thompson, Everton Nelson, Tom Pigott-Smith, Liz Edwards, Roger Garland, Rita Manning—violins
Peter Lale, Andy Parker, Vicci Wardman, Rachel Bolt, Bruce White, Kate Musker, Garfield Jackson, George Robertson, Bill Hawkes—violas
Anthony Pleeth, Paul Kegg, Martin Loveday, Frank Schaefer, Dave Daniels, Anthony Lewis, Jonathan Williams—vellos
Stacey Watton, Steve Mair, Patrick Lannigan—basses
Karen Jones, Anna Noakes, Helen Keen—flutes/alto flute
David Theodore, Jane Marshall—oboes
Jon Carnac, Dave Fuest—clarinets
Richard Skinner, David Chatterton—bassoons
Stephen Maw—contra bassoon
Chris Parkes, Richard Berry, Mike Kidd, Philip Eastop—horns
Mike Hext, Richard Edwards—tenor trombones
Dave Stewart—bass trombone
Oren Marshall—tuba
Frank Ricotti, Gary Kettel—percussion
Skaila Kanga—harp
Dave Arch—piano
Chris Laurence—stand-up rhythm
Tom Pearce—choir master
Joanna Forbes, Alex Gibson, Chloe Morgan, Claire Henry, Alice Fearn, Caitlyn Gordon, Leah Jackson, Dani May, Abbie Osmon, Yona Dunsford, Eloise Irving, Rebecca Trehearn, Soophia Foroughi, Polly May, Nikki Kennedy—choir metro voices
Peter Erskine—percussion (1–7, 10)
Michael Valerio—acoustic bass (1–7, 10)
Luis Conte—percussion (10)
Matt Rollings—additional piano (10)

Produced by:

Vince Mendoza, Matt Rollings, Mary Chapin Carpenter

Comments:

Some re-recording projects are unnecessary, with little differences between the new versions and the originals. This one is too often schmaltzy, not only adding an orchestra, but arrangements that really make the songs sound like a film score (complete with the sweeping phrases that film music is often derided for). Too bad, because the quieter moments when the orchestra is backing Mary's vocals are often quite lovely. But then the orchestra gets its Grand Moments of cheesiness and I really wish I were just listening to the original studio versions. (JoAnn Whetsell)

I have not found Mary Chapin Carpenter's Songs from the Movie to be so bad (but then I don't know any of the original versions). The sound reminds me a lot of Joni Mitchell's orchestral versions of her songs (on Both Sides Now and Travelogue), which I liked. Still, I would probably like this album more (or maybe less?) if I knew the original versions of these songs. Rating: 52/100. Best tracks: "Ideas Are Like Stars," "Mrs. Hemingway," "On and On It Goes." (raschee@gmail.com)


Further info:

Mary has a DVD, Jubilee: Live at Wolf Trap, 1997.

Her songs appear on several compilations. Recordings only available on compilations include:

  • a live version of "Never Had It So Good" on The Best of Mountain Stage Live, Vol. 3 (1991)
  • "Dreamland" on 'Til Their Eyes Shine: The Lullaby Album
  • Dead Man Walking (A Dream Like This)" on the Dead Man Walking) soundtrack (1996)
  • "Let Me Into Your Heart" on the Tin Cup soundtrack (1996)
  • a live version of "I Feel Lucky" on The Best of Austin City Limits: Country Music's Finest Hour (1996)
  • "Somewhere Down Below The Mason Dixon Line" on The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute (1997)
  • "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" on the My Best Friend's Wedding soundtrack (1997)
  • a live version of "I Am a Town" on Live at the Iron Horse, Vol. 1 (1997)
  • "Oh, Lonesome Me" on Tribute to Tradition (1998)
  • "Mellow Yellow" on the Steal This Movie soundtrack (2000)
  • a live version of "This Shirt" on Concerts for a Landmine Free World (2001)
  • "My Dear Old Friend" on the We Were Soldiers soundtrack (2002)
  • "Spring & All" on Going Driftless: An Artists' Tribute to Greg Brown (2002)
  • "Violets of Dawn" on The Village: A Celebration of the Music of Greenwich Village (2009)
  • live versions of "Why Shouldn't We" and "He Thinks He'll Keep Her" on Rounder Records' 40th anniversary concert (2010)
Mary has also recorded several collaborations with other artists. These songs include:

  • "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" with Rosanne Cash and Shawn Colvin on Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1993)
  • "Diamonds and Rust" with Joan Baez on Ring Them Bells (1995)
  • live versions of "Shotgun Down the Avalanche" and "Come On, Come On" with Shawn Colvin on Columbia Records Radio Hour, Volume 1 (1995)
  • "Wishing" with Kevin Montgomery on Not Fade Away: Remembering Buddy Holly (1996)
  • "It's Only Love" with Randy Scruggs on Crown of Jewels (1998)
  • "Deserted Soldier" with The Chieftains on Tears of Stone (1999)
  • live version of "Moon & St. Christopher" with Mary Black appears on The Best of Mary Black: 1991–2001 (2001)
  • "Flesh and Blood" with Sheryl Crow and Emmylou Harris on Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash (2002)
  • "Blue Night" with Ricky Skaggs on Sing the Songs of Bill Monroe (2002)
  • "Chained to These Lovin' Arms" with Patty Larkin on her album 25 (2010)
  • "Before & After" with Carrie Newcomer on her album Before & After (2010);
  • "The One Who Knows" with Dar Williams on her album Many Great Companions (2010);
  • "Iowa" with Dar Williams, Sara & Sean Watkins, and Motherlode on Williams' album Many Great Companions (2010)


Thanks to Sherlyn Koo and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.


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