My Kind of Country

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Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Between Here and Gone’

2004’s Between Here and Gone found Mary Chapin Carpenter attempting to reverse her declining commercial fortunes at radio and retail. A new co-producer, Matt Rollings, was brought on board, and although in many ways this is a very somber and introspective album, a conscious effort was made to make it more radio-friendly than its predecessor. The fiddle and pedal steel are given a much more prominent role on a handful of tracks, as is evident from the first notes of the opening song “What Would You Say To Me?”, which was the first single released from this collection. The trend continues into the second track “Luna’s Gone” before she slips back into singer-songwriter mode with “In My Heaven”, which name checks the late singer-songwriter Eva Cassidy and provides a glimpse of Mary Chapin’s thoughts about the hereafter. This is a track that would have fit comfortably on any of her previous albums,  though the steel guitar would likely have been absent if it had been recorded a few years earlier.

On “Goodnight America”, Carpenter talks about being an outsider in a strange and crowded city. In the first verse, she’s a pedestrian waiting to cross a busy intersection in West L.A. In the second verse, she’s in Houston, before moving on to Atlanta, Charleston, and the Bronx. She’s still looking for a place where she’ll fit in as the song closes:

I’m a stranger here
No one you would know
I’m from somewhere else
Well isn’t everybody though

I don’t know where I’ll be
When the sun comes up
Until then, sweet dreams
Goodnight America

The same theme of loneliness is revisited later in the album with “Grand Central Station”, in which the working-class protagonist takes comfort in the familiar images in New York’s famous railway terminal, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The narrator is part of the cleanup crew at Ground Zero, who is haunted by the voices of the victims.

The album closes on an equally introspective, yet more hopeful note with “Elysium”, which is said to have been inspired by Mary Chapin’s 2002 marriage:

I looked out the window and stared at the fields
Where the blue sky and green were colliding
I looked back at you and I knew we were sealed
By a fate that has ways of providing
Yes sometimes you get there in spite of the route Losing track of your life and what it’s about
The road seems to know when to straighten right out
The closer you come
To Elysium

My two favorite tracks from this album are the two that were released as singles: “What Would You Say To Me?” and “Beautiful Racket”. Neither one charted, despite the fact that they are arguably among the most country-sounding singles of Carpenter’s career. But instead of recapturing Mary Chapin’s lost momentum at radio, Between Here and Gone marks the end of the major label phase of her career, as she and Sony parted ways after the album‘s release.

The replacement of John Jennings with Matt Rollings as Mary Chapin’s co-producer resulted in a subtle yet noticeable sonic change. The album is a bit less cohesive than her earlier efforts, since there were some obvious concessions made on certain tracks in order to woo back country radio support. Overall, however, I enjoyed this album more than any of its predecessors. It didn’t produce any huge radio hits, but it’s the first Mary Chapin Carpenter album that I didn’t get bored listening to three-quarters of the way through.

Grade: B+

Between Here and Gone is available on CD through third-party sellers at Amazon. It is also available for download at Amazon and iTunes.