Singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter’s second album (her first album saw no singles released from it) and it’s four breakthrough top 20 singles gave her a solid place in the Class of ’89. Originally released through Columbia Nashville, State Of The Heart rose to #28 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and has been certified gold.
State of the Heart contains the beginnings of Carpenter’s transition from folk into country and features her signature rich lyrics in a mix of both styles. She wrote every song on the album with the exception of ‘Quittin Time’ and a bit of co-authoring from John Jennings on ‘Never Had It So Good.’
‘How Do’ kicks off the set with a high energy dance tune that’ll get your feet tapping and your heart pumpin’. It’s a country version of “How do you do” and one of those “I’d like to meet you” numbers, perfect for a Honky Tonk, summed up best in the line, ‘Here’s a local girl/Who wants to show you around’. There’s some great instrumental solo work on this one which made it to #19 on the Hot Country Singles chart. I don’t know what its competition was on radio, but this one deserved to go higher.
She slows it down, but only a bit, with the next one, ‘Something Of a Dreamer’. Its lilting acoustic guitar picking and her clear folksy voice give it that optimistic dreamer feel. For some reason I could hear Trisha Yearwood doing a great cover of this one. Carpenter’s lyrics paint a poetic picture of love from afar and the chorus is catchy:
‘She’s something of a dreamer
Something of a fool
Something of a heartbreak
When she gives her heart to you’
‘Dreamer’ rose to #14 and was her 4th top 20 from this album on the Hot Country Singles chart.
Next up is ‘Never Had It So Good’ which has a great hook: ‘You never had it so good babe/I never had it so bad’. It made it to #8 on the chart as the second single released to radio, but personally I think the hook is the best part of it. It’s just not as interesting as the first two cuts which have much more to offer instrumentally and lyrically. And Mary doesn’t sound as invested in this one either.
‘Read My Lips’ should have been a single. Catchy, with a funky rhythmic guitar undercurrent, it’s perhaps a bit more R & B, but that flavor matches the sexy tone implied in the title and the lyric:
‘One more minute away from you
Is a minute that lasts too long
When I get back we’re gonna lock the door baby
And disconnect the phone’
Possibly my favorite song on the album is one of the most folk-sounding pieces, ‘This Shirt’. But then, I’m an old folkie at heart (don’t read as ‘old fogy’). Just like the title, the melody and production is light and simple, and tells the stories and memories wrapped up in a favorite old shirt. Like fabric, she weaves it all together tightly and it wears well with time. This one seems to have had a following outside of radio and shows up again on her ‘Party Doll and Other Favorites’ album.
‘Quittin Time’ got all the way to #7 as the third single from the album, which seems surprising given its pop sound and the popularity of more neo-traditionalists in the late 80s. But perhaps the appeal was the relatable and singable country lyric of a relationship that’s over but not over yet. Again, it’s not the most interesting musically, but has a memorable chorus written by Robb Royer and Roger Linn:
‘But 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’
‘Down in Mary’s Land’ features some great fiddle and acoustic guitar with a bit of an Irish dance tune feel and mandolin thrown in. The rich rapid lyrics roll off Mary’s tongue just like the scenes roll by the car driving through ‘Mary’s Land’. I love how she paints a picture.
Somewhat of a story song and another of my favorites, ‘Goodbye Again’ is a sad tale of the other woman waiting by the phone hoping He might call her from the road just in time to say hello/And goodbye again. The instrumentation is beautiful and the lyric on the bridge suggests that she’s worth more than to be the other woman. She was once successful in her own right. The haunting touch of the light keyboard octaves and the low sad cello line are the tell tale signs of how she’s still trapped in the no man’s land of being the other woman. Mary’s vocals match the sadness of this no win situation. I know Sugarland’s ‘Stay’ was based on Reba’s ‘Whoever’s in New England,’ but it sure could have been influenced by this one, too.
The album wraps up with two fully country tunes and a final good example of Mary’s mix of country and folk. ‘Too Tired’ is the spirited honky tonk tune leading into these last three. Its last verse captures the whole song:
‘Too tired to care that you’re bad for me
My heart says stay, but my head says leave
But I can’t get far when I’m on my knees
Begging you baby
You ain’t no good for a girl like me’
This is another one I could hear Trisha Yearwood cover.
‘Slow Country Dance’ is a lovely slow waltz. Stories from the dance floor whirl through each verse like the glimpses you get of other couples while you’re dancing, some sad and some sweet.
Finally, ‘It Don’t Bring You’ is that mix of country, folk and a bit of blues that is Mary Chapin Carpenter. It’s a breaking up and letting go song – a definite country theme – with Mary’s rich lyrics, folk melody and vocals, and a bit of a blues guitar riff. The first verse sets the tone:
‘Well I know it ain’t been roses lately, baby, it’s just been thorns
And no matter what we do, nothing seems to change
Love has always been my shelter, for you it’s been a storm
But for a while I thought we’d almost beat the rain’
However, by the vocals heading into the last chorus, she’s not only feeling the pain and sadness of letting go, but the strength that will come in the long run:
‘And I wish you shelter, baby, from all your storms
They scared you, but they never seemed to teach
That I can’t bring you love if you don’t love
And I can’t bring you time if you ain’t got time
And I can’t bring you strength, baby, if you ain’t strong
And I can’t bring you kindness if you ain’t kind’
State of the Heart is available from Amazon as a Sony/BMG 2007 re-release, but with no liner notes. It’s definitely worth having in your Class of ’89 collection.
Watch this performance from TNN:
Listen to ‘Never Had It So Good’.
Or, maybe you’d like ‘This Shirt’ better.