Mary Chapin Carpenter’s third album was released in 1990, and gave her a real breakthrough. Produced with longterm collaborator John Jennings, the record saw her draw on a wide variety of influences. The material (all written by Carpenter herself) is a mixture of slow songs showcasing the velvety texture of her voice, and more commercial up-tempo numbers. It is far from traditional country with fiddle on just two tracks and steel conspicuous only by its complete absence, but it is one of her best records.
The intense lead single ‘You Win Again’ reached #16, peaking in 1991. It’s one of my favorite MCC songs, a despairing mid-tempo tale of a woman in love but aware she is in a losing situation:
I’ve been holding my breath just wondering when
You’ll make some kind of decision
To let me in or let me go
I’ll always lose if I never know
Where I fit in
Baby you win again
The insistently bluesy rock ‘n roll cover ‘Right Now’ followed it to radio and did about as well, reaching #15. The third single, though, was Mary’s biggest hit to date. The irresistible Cajun-styled ‘Down At the Twist And Shout’, featuring Cajun band BeauSoleil, just missed the top spot, peaking at #2, and won the singer her first Grammy. Atypical of most of the artist’s work, it is one of her best remembered songs and a sheer delight.
The final single, the measured ‘Going Out Tonight’, written with John Jennings, was less successful, making #14. It is a well-written song with a sultry vocal about a woman “going out tonight to find myself a friend” in the aftermath of a failed relationship.
My personal favorite track is the charming story song ‘Halley Came To Jackson’ about a family watching Halley’s Comet in 1910, and the baby seeing it again as an old woman 76 years later from the same back porch in Jackson. Tasteful fiddle and dulcimer from Mark O’Connor and John McCutcheon respectively underpin the pretty melody, and the Desert Rose Band’s Herb Pedersen sings backing vocals on the album’s loveliest (and most country) moment. The story was inspired by the life of novelist Eudora Welty, and was adapted some years later into an illustrated children’s book. It is still one of my favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter songs.
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