My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Time*Sex*Love’

After 1996’s A Place In The World, Mary Chapin Carpenter went on a 5-year hiatus from recording, only touring sporadically during that period.  During her off-time from studio albums, Carpenter found time to record a track for the John Lennon tribute album Working Class Hero, and her version of ‘Grow Old With Me’ became a top 20 hit on the Adult Contemporary charts.  Meanwhile, her own ‘10,000 Miles’ was featured as the title track to the movie Fly Away Home. In 1998, she began work on Shane, a Broadway adaption of the 1953 film starring Alan Ladd.  Creative differences with the producers caused Carpenter to pull out of the project in 2000.  When she returned to the recording studio in 2001, the album she created was a stretch from her country albums in the 90s.

Perhaps buoyed by her adult contemporary successes, or her 5 years off the country charts, Carpenter’s new style was coffeehouse folk meets mainstream pop, with all the sensibilities of a hard-core folkie. She’s still singing about the plight of the middle-aged woman, but age and maturity was certainly starting to show, and the themes behind the relationships and emotions became wrapped in darker and more complicated emotions with this album.

Naturally, the singles didn’t find much favor at radio, even though they’re just as good as some of her past hits.  Leading off was ‘Simple Life’, a very slick, pop-sounding tune produced to full effect with echoes and a wall of sound in the chorus.  The basis is of a middle age woman whose life is ‘getting complicated’ and overwhelming her.  The chorus offers that she should ‘just enjoy the view and be glad she made it’.  It’s a smart song that didn’t find an audience, stalling at #53 on the country charts, and not being released elsewhere.

Second to radio, and failing to chart, was ‘This Is Me Leaving You’.  Similar to her most famous songs, the driving force behind it is the melody, plucking along throughout.  As the title suggests, it’s a portrait of a woman leaving a man, guided by the voice of conscience.

‘Slave to the Beauty’ follows in the highly produced fashion with a small orchestra of brass behind the singer.  ‘Maybe World’ is also beefed up musically.  The flute is a nice touch.  ‘The Long Way Home’ is a neat song.  It tells the stories of two very career-successful individuals and how that doesn’t add up to happiness for them.  It’s the one who ‘takes the long way home’ and just stops to enjoy his existence that’s the most content.

My favorite on the album is ‘What Was It Like’, a soft ballad where the narrator is asking her former lover for the details to the demise of their relationship.  She simply can’t remember because time has managed to shield her from the most painful of the memories. ‘King of Love’ is another soft ballad, with a Celtic influence.  A woman is a slave to her desire for a man who will ‘never make her queen’.  It’s a strange song lyrically. Many of the songs fall into a category best defined on The Simpsons as ‘too smart for the corn dog crowd, too dumb for the bagel crowd’.

Time*Sex*Love didn’t sell as well as her past works.  Moving just over 300,000 copies, it was her first not to be certified gold since her 1987 debut, thought it did chart at #6 on the Country Albums chart.  Fans of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s country records may want to avoid it.  Likewise, those who regularly spin Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, and Sheryl Crow will want to give it a listen.  Time*Sex*Love marked Carpenter’s shift from country radio renegade to Americana mainstay.  Changing styles allowed her to deliver another smart and cohesive set of songs, all written or co-written by Carpenter, and even though it’s not my taste as much as her past work, I can appreciate it for what it is.

Grade: C+

Time*Sex*Love is available in digital and CD format at amazon.

2 responses to “Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Time*Sex*Love’

  1. bob May 22, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Not one of her better efforts so I can’t argue with your C+ grade. There are no memorable songs on this cd.

  2. SD May 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    No memorable songs, but I think it’s a very cohesive album.

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