I ran into a preview of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 2020 album The Dirt and The Stars just early in the week of 7th August 2020, when she released that record. It just felt like a lovely addition to the country / Americana album presented for this weekend. Here is my review.
Mary Chapin Carpenter – About The Artist
Mary Chapin Carpenter was born on 21st February 1958 in Princeton, New Jersey. One of the first songs she wrote was House of Cards, which was dealing with the divorce of her parents at her age of 16 years. Though she liked music, she never thought about performing before her father suggested her to perform at an open-mic bar. She released her first album Hometown Girl at the age of 29. Two years later, she had a first success when State of the Heart made it to the Top 30 of the US Country album charts, majorly caused by four singles, which made it to the Top 20 Country Singles Billboard. In Canada, the album had similar success. Over the next releases, she improved her presence in the charts even more, with Stones in the Road being the first (and so far: only) Country Billboard chart-topping album in 1994. The album also features her only chart-topper on the country singles side, Shut Up and Kiss Me and her last Top 10 one, Tender When I Want To Be. Even though she is regularly releasing music, the 2001 single Simple Life was the last one in the US Country Charts.
Her albums, however, perform still pretty well in the US Country charts. The 2016 album The Things That We Are Made Of peaked eighth in that category, while her previous album, the 2018 Sometimes Just the Sky still was in the Top 30. The Dirt and the Stars is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 16th album.
Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Dirt and The Stars
– Track by Track
The eleven song album lasts 58 minutes.
1. Farther Along and Further In
I haven’t been into the music of Mary Chapin Carpenter before I started to review this album, so I was really curious how it will be like to get in touch with it. The album starts with Farther Along and Further In, a close-to-five minute song, which is feeling a bit of mystical, but is also focusing quite much on instrumental parts as well on lyrical ones – much easier, of course, to the 2:55 minute Nashville mainstream productions. I definitely enjoyed my first steps into her world.
2. It’s Ok To Be Sad
It’s OK to be sad
It’s alright to be lonely
It won’t always feel bad
Somebody told me
These feelings like weather
They come and they go
Today I felt better
Tomorrow who knows
The song feels quite melancholic, but as you see in the lyrics, it is having a positive message as well. On the one hand, the song (as the previous one) feels a bit monotonous to me, on the other hand, her vocals feel very direct and touch me. A very interesting and fascinating combination.
3. All Broken Hearts Break Differently
Piano, strings, very light drumset rhythm in the background – the first two tracks already haven’t been for the dancefloor already, but All Broken Hearts Break Differently even feels slower than them. The song (again) creates a nice atmosphere. Mary Chapin Carpenter takes you on a trip through her stories in her way – which feels very refreshing as this authentic sound is leading to very characteristic songs.
4. Old D-35
As long as there’s a sky turning into darkness after day
As long as you and I are standing in a photograph in a frame
As long as there’s a vine of summer squash and peach pie on a sill
As long as there’s still time and room to chase it, try and hold it still
An old hat in the hallway
The way the light turns gold
Twilight on a fall day
And the sound of your old D-35
I love the way she is telling her stories. I am not (yet?) at the point that this album bores me – even though the song is close to six minutes, it is pretty slow and I am reviewing the album in the middle of the night. It’s got something special.
5. American Stooge
This six minute one starts with twenty seconds of drums, before, step by step, other instruments join and create a lovely Americana groove. This song seems to develop, to increase, to intensify up until the first chorus. Here is the story of the second verse – to me the best track of the album so far.
Once he stood at a fork in the road
Scratchin’ his head which way to go
Power on his left, conscience on his right
A soul in the balance in a knockdown fight
When he’s not kissin’ the ring and levelin’ threats
He’s proud to be your favorite hypocrite
Polishin’ sound bites for the folks at home
A moth to a flame and a microphone
6. Where The Beauty Is
Songs by Mary Chapin Carpenter are neither AC/DC nor Whitney Houston-alike – but the album seems to become a bit more powerful. One of two tracks, by the way, which are shorter than four mnutes. Nice one.
You could hear a car passing way down the street
A neighbor’s dog barking, and the wind in the trees
And you’re the king of your castle and of all you survey
At the end of this day that was
Nocturne seems to perfectly fit to the time of the day I am writing that review – but more than that, it is just a lovely way of narrating about reflections one might have during a sleepless (or workful) night. Lovely track.
8. Secret Keepers
Secret Keepers feels a bit shocking at the beginning to me – it is really having a full, radio-alike arrangement. And it is definitely a great song. I somehow hate to say that, just because the atmosphere of the other tracks is so much different, but I just like both worlds. Furthermore it is just good to have some more rhythm and power in this album as well.
9. Asking For A Friend
When there’s nothing left to say, how do you say it?
When there’s nowhere else to go, have you reached the end?
Will this song always remind me when I play it?
Sorry, I’m just asking for a friend
Impressive track. No more comment. Listen to it.
10. Everybody’s Got Something
Needless to say that Marc Chapin Carpenter turned back to the slower rhythms here. Finally a song about the issues and characteristics everybody is carrying around with him/herself.
11. Between the Dirt and the Stars
The last song of the album is more powerful again – which is quite good, as the title track of this album will tell you its stories for some 8 minutes – including a really lovely instrumental finale. Nice!
Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Dirt and The Stars – Spotify
Here is the Spotify widget for The Dirt and The Stars
Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Dirt and The Stars – My View
As said, this was my very first travel into the country/blues/Americana style music of Mary Chapin Carpenter. I definitely enjoyed that trip – even though I might never become a frequent traveler in it. It is lovely to listen to music like this: honest, individual, not mainstreamed. It is lovely storytelling – some of the songs, however, feel a bit too passive to me. I am sure this album has a lot of fans who are tired of very is triggered to commerical aspects (which might turn The Dirt and The Stars into a quite commercial one as well, grotesquely…). I like it!
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