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Mary Chapin Carpenter’s music isn’t of the kind set to excite the listener, get them want to dance, albeit there has been exceptions during the singer-songwriter’s 30 year recording career. Her latest album is a bit of a surprise, since instead of a bunch of new songs she has settled for re-recording a dozen songs from her career, plus a brand new one in the title-track “Sometimes Just The Sky”. 

Produced by Ethan Johns, the album was recorded entirely live at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios outside Bath, England, and has long-time collaborator Duke Levine (guitar) and a handpicked band of Johns’ favourite pickers give Carpenter’s songs a timely update. The playing and lyrical content is awash in much grace as she reflects on numerous aspects of life, speaks of two lanes as she questions what someone is running from on “The Moon And St. Christopher” (and though classy I mused to myself wasn’t the original stronger), and with it followed by little heard 2001 recording “Superman” (found on Borders Books) the album is in the main a gentle, dreamy affair. 

On given the introduction of fiddle, mandolin and harmony vocals “Naked To The Earth” bucks the trend, and how beautiful it sounds! More of the like would have been appreciated with open arms (and ears); the whole arrangement is magical. Other than which, Carpenter leaves it pretty much to her beautifully crafted lyrics to tell her story, and with the likes of “This Is Love” weave a spell few others are capable and the pretty “Jericho” sounding as delicate as a flower in full bloom her tendency to drift is highlighted. Likewise could be said, in part of “The Calling” as she shares her wisdom, and talking of which I was thrilled to once again hear one of the first song I heard by MCC. I am talking “This Shirt”; her eye for detail hasn’t been bettered. Even some of the original versions directness has been stripped back and replaced with a more artful approach that is another matter. As for “Sometimes Just The Sky”, it was inspired by something in an interview she read with Patti Smith, and fits the set like the proverbial glove. One song that most certainly benefits on given a new production is “One Small Heart”; warmed in organ, fiddle, pedal steel and strong, relentless rhythm it has much to admire as she speaks of no set directions and no short cuts (as the thrill of the unknown rears as no doubt Carpenter's has and will if she allows keep on doing so).     

Maurice Hope     

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May 2018

John Prine
67 pts.
The Tree of Forgiveness
Oh Boy Records
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58 pts.
It's All Good
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Jeb Barry and the Pawn Shop Saints
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Out From Under
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Settling Scores vol. 2

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