My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Come On Come On’

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s fourth album could also be titled Greatest Hits 1992 – 94. Selling an impressive four-million copies, the disc also contains an unprecedented 7 hit singles, all of which charted in the top 20, with 4 of them going top 5.  At the time of the album’s release, and subsequently, Carpenter was riding a wave of success that found her a critical and awards show darling, while also firmly in the good graces of country radio.  It’s not often an artist can ably straddle the fence between commercial and critical success, but with her witty brand of folk-country, infused with just enough zest to sell it to the masses, Mary Chapin Carpenter did just that for the first half of her career.  Her commercial zenith was reached with Come On Come On, and some would say her artistic peak is also seen on this album.

To lead off, Columbia Records sent the plucky novelty tune ‘I Feel Lucky’ to radio. Mary Chapin Carpenter penned the song with the legendary Don Schlitz and it went to #3 on the singles chart, partly aided by a funny, offbeat music video.  Its recurrent status on CMT is one of the first things that made me notice Mary Chapin Carpenter.  Still intent on courting the country audience, the disc’s second single is the elegant country duet with traditional crooner Joe Diffie.  Two would-be lovers contemplate what they’ll mean to each other as the pair deliver the ballad softly amid a sparse piano-driven arrangement.  Peaking at #15, it’s one of the best songs on the album, but one of the lesser successful singles.

A cover of Lucinda Williams’ ‘Passionate Kisses’ followed at radio.  The track from the singer-songwriter’s self-titled 1988 album comes to life with Carpenter and John Jenning’s production.  The guitars rock and the drums roll to give the song its signature melody while the singer asks for all the things she wants in life, along with ‘passionate kisses from you’ to go with them.  Carpenter’s recording earned Williams a Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1994 and rose to #4 on the country singles chart.

Also co-written with Don Schlitz, ‘The Hard Way’, more than any other song in her catalog, is the best example of the Mary Chapin Carpenter sound.  The guitars are turned up a littler louder than most mixes, the lyrics are brilliant, and the vocals are crisp, confident, and clear.  The song itself is a sort of plea for affection from your significant other, but it’s more a collection of nuggets of wisdom, woven into rhyming verses.  ‘Show the world a little light when you show it your heart/We’ve got two lives, one we’re given and the other one we make’.  Another hit, this stopped just outside the top 10 at #11.

Dire Straits recorded ‘The Bug’ and released it as a single in 1991, taking it to the top 10 of the rock charts.  Carpenter’s version was a country hit two years later, peaking at #16.  A happy-go-lucky, ‘it happens’ attitude is attached to life’s problems in this unexceptional track written by Mark Knopfler.

‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her’ has become Mary Chapin Carpenter’s signature song. She wrote it in response to a 1970s Geritol commercial where a man lists all his wife’s duties, and her accomplishment of them, concluding “My wife, I think I’ll keep her.”  A picture-perfect marriage is depicted in the lyrics as we listen to the female subject of the song age from 21, wearing her mother’s wedding dress, to having her third child at 29, and finally, starting her life over as a self-imposed single woman at 36, having ‘met her husband at the door’ telling him she doesn’t love him anymore, and maybe she never really did.  It’s a startling look inside the nuclear family, and the unhappiness that may be hidden beneath all the duties and responsibilities.  The music video for ‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her’ features Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, Suzy Bogguss, Pam Tillis, Kathy Mattea, and Emmylou Harris accompanying Carpenter.  It’s a clip from a 1993 CBS special Women of Country.  This also became the album’s biggest hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard singles chart, and going to #1 on the Radio & Records chart, Carpenter’s first single to do so.

The album’s seventh single is the clever ‘I Take My Chances’.  The lyrics tell of an adventure-hungry soul who doesn’t always play it safe.  Opting not to send her dollar to the televangelist and tune into CNN instead, the narrator offers,

Now some people say that you shouldn’t tempt fate
And for them I can not disagree
But I never learned nothing from playing it safe
I say fate should not tempt me

It was lyrics like those, coupled with the irresistible melodies that frame the entire album, that made Mary Chapin Carpenter a literate listener’s favorite.  Her songs are those of the 30-something single woman, the heartbroken soul, and the woman with a fire in her belly and a comeback on her lips.  The songs on Come On Come On capture all of these feelings and more.  It is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s most successful album for a reason: it’s a start-to-finish collection of country music gems, and a perfect snapshot of the wealth of diversity and talent the 90s boom brought to us.  It’s a landmark album by every definition, and certainly essential listening to me.

Grade: A+

Come On Come On is readily available at all retailers, including amazon.

15 responses to “Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Come On Come On’

  1. Michael May 11, 2010 at 10:13 am

    This was the album that made me take note of MCC too. Then I worked my way backwards through her catalog. I know a lot of fans consider Stones in the Road to be her finest album and I’ve tried to listen to it often, but I’m always more drawn to the hooks of Come On Come On. Joe Diffie has never sounded better than on “Not Too Much To Ask”, “Fate should not tempt me” is one of my favorite lines from a song and “I Am a Town” was an interesting writing sample. I can remember the title cut being used to great effect on television in the early 90s and “Only a Dream” is my favorite song about sisters. “The Bug” is my least favorite track. An A+ for both the album and the review, J.R.!

    • J.R. Journey May 11, 2010 at 10:21 pm

      As a whole, I think Come On Come On is a stronger album, but the best tracks on Stones In The Road – ‘Keeper For Every Flame’, ‘This Is Love’ – are a cut above the best tracks on this album. Just IMO.

  2. bob May 11, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Great review and comment by Michael. I would add that I really liked the end of the last verse of “Only a Dream”:
    I turned on the light
    And all that I saw
    Was a bed and a desk and couple of tacks
    No sign of someone who expects to be back
    It must have been one hell of a suitcase you packed

  3. J.R. Journey May 11, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I like all of the songs on this album, including ‘I Am a Town’, ‘Only a Dream’, the title track, and ‘Walking Through Fire’. I didn’t mention those specifically because with 7 singles to talk about, I was trying to keep the review from being super long. There’s not a bad song on the album though.

    Thanks for the compliments, guys. Writing about an album like Come On Come On that I grew up loving and listening to is one of the hardest tasks for a blogger IMO. The hard part is to voice my feelings without gushing and sounding like some crazed fan club president. Glad you all liked it. That means a lot.

  4. Occasional Hope May 11, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    The duet with Joe Diffie is lovely, although it’s a rather unexpected pairing.

    I guess I’m out on a limb here, but I’ve always fond He Thinks He’ll Keep Her a bit heavy handed.

    • Razor X May 11, 2010 at 7:02 pm

      I’ll even go further out on that limb — “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” has got a very catchy melody but the lyrics are no more than a feminist rant. Imagine that the genders of the characters are reversed and the husband meets his wife of 15 years at the front door one day and tells her he doesn’t love her anymore — for no apparent reason other than he is bored with the drudgeries of suburban life. Would he be heralded as a profile in courage the way the wife is? I highly doubt it. Another minor point: typing pools went the way of the dinosaurs way before the 1990s. I’d venture to say that many of MCC’s younger fans aren’t even sure what a typing pool is.

      • Leeann Ward May 11, 2010 at 9:10 pm

        This is a very good album, though I have to say that I don’t think that she and Joe Diffie sound very good together and the song itself bors me.

        I like “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” a lot, though I did have to ask what a typing pool was. I think that a husband would have a right to get tired of a marriage if he was doing all the work to keep the family on track. I don’t mind a “feminist rant” here and there though. Then again, I don’t think it’s really a rant or even heavy handed since it’s subtle enough that a lot of people don’t even know what the song means on the surface, including myself as a young listener, not to mention a past post on this site (by Chris D) that asked the meaning behind the song.

        Also, I like “the Bug”

  5. Pingback: Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – 'Come On Come On' « My Kind … | Mark Guerrero Music

  6. Leeann Ward May 11, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    BTW, rockin’ review.

  7. Razor X May 11, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I like the duet with Joe Diffie a lot. They aren’t two artists that I would have thought to pair, but I think it works quite well.

  8. Cam Smith May 13, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    One of my all time favorite albums. I was so happy that she release a new album last week. Even without radio airplay, her albums still sell well. She is one of modern country music’s best gems. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s music is country music with intellect.

  9. Barb Drake July 12, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks for performing at The Kent Stage this past Saturday, 7/10. The show was fantastic! I’ve heard you perform a couple of other times including on Playhouse Square in Cleveland. Come back to the Cleveland area soon. Perhaps the Lakewood Auditorium could be a suitable venue. I was curious about exit 7A on the New Jersey Turnpike so I checked out Wikipedia. I’m about 6 months older than you, graduated from the U. of Notre Dame in “79 & have also somewhat forsaken an upper (middle) class upbringing. Although I bet you’ve got horses in addition to your cats & dogs. I love the deer that are constantly in my yard since I live right near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. They’re the closest thing to horses I’ll ever get. I understand you abandoned the ranks of us single women. My boyfriend lives 12 minutes away. My sister says we’ll probably get married when we’re in our 60’s. Thanks again for a great time this past Saturday night. I was the super tall person standing against the back wall near the end of the concert. After my 6th hot flash, I abandoned my seat. Take care.

  10. larry January 2, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Only A Dream is the perfect song from this great album.I rediscovered it on youtube from the Wolftrap-live dvd.What a performance from a legend singer/songwriter.That line about the bed,desk and couple of tacks is so vivid and simply stated but packs a punch.MCC is a rare treasure that should be a part of everyones music collection

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