My Kind of Country

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Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Little Ol’ Cowgirl’

The Dixie Chicks’ second album was Little Ol’ Cowgirl. Released in 1992, the album found the original lineup of Robin Lynn Macy, Laura Lynch, Martie & Emily Erwin working through an assortment of original material and covers.

The album opens up with the title track, a spritely western swing number penned by John Ims. Laura Lynch sings the lead with really nice trio harmonizing by Macy and Emily Erwin. We should note that Martie Lynch mostly plays fiddle on this album but whenever the harmony is a trio, she is not singing.

She’s a little ol’ cowgirl from out Texas way

Countin’ the nights ’til the fiddler plays

Workin’ all week just doin’ her thing


She likes punchin’ doggies but she loves to swing

And when she hears that backbeat rhythm driftin’ through the door

She can’t talk, she can’t sit still, she can’t stay off of that floor

Kickin’ her heels up lordy look at her twirl

Everybody wants to boogie on down

With the little ol’ cowgirl

Robin Lynn Macy takes the lead on “A Road Is Just A Road”, a cover of a song written by Mary Chapin Carpenter & John Jennings. The song is a med-tempo with ballad, with trio harmony.

“She’ll Find Better Things To Do” comes from the pen of Bob Millard. Macy takes the lead vocal on this mid-tempo modern country ballad about a relationship that has come unraveled. The songs has quartet harmony.

She don’t see no way around it It

He shows every sign of leavin’ her behind

After three days stayin’ out late

It don’t look like he’ll be comin’ home tonight

She wants to cry but pride won’t let her

She’ll find better things to do


Leaves her key inside the mailbox

With a note that tells that cowboy where to go …

This is followed by “An Irish Medley” (comprised of “Handsome Molly”, “Little Beggerman” and “Mist On The Moor”). Macy sings the lead with Lynch on harmony on the first two parts with the last tune being an instrumental . Bruce Singleton guests on penny whistle and bagpipes, with J.D. Brown also on bagpipes and Olga Arseniev on accordion.

“You Send Me” was a #1 Pop & #1 R&B hit in 1957 for its writer the legendary Sam Cooke. The song is a dreamy ballad with Laura Lynch handling the lead vocals with the rest joining in on harmonies. Lloyd Maines plays steel guitar on this number.

Darling, you send me

I know you send me

Darling, you send me

Honest you do, honest you do

Honest you do, whoa


You thrill me

I know you, you, you thrill me

Darling, you, you, you, you thrill me

Honest you do


At first I thought it was infatuation

But, woo, it’s lasted so long

Now I find myself wanting

To marry you and take you home, whoa

“Just A Bit Like Me” is treated as straight-ahead bluegrass. Written by Robin Lynn Macy, this is a really nice song that deserves to be more widely covered. Robin sings the lead with the others joining in on harmony, Dave Peters plays mandolin on this track.

It’s six o’clock in the morning

The sun was ready to rise

And as she closes his lunchbox

She spies the sun in his eyes

She stays at home with the baby

She’s got a dream in her heart

Somewhere her sister is singing

A night is ready to start


One’s choosing, one’s cruising

Down the highway of their dreams

While songs are sung her dream’s begun

And she thinks of what it means

To live through her voice, she made a choice

But neither one is free

Am I a lot like her or is she just a bit like me?

“A Heart That Can” was written by Patti Dixon with Laura Lynch singing lead and the rest on harmony vocals. Lloyd Maines plays steel guitar on this track. This track is performed as contemporary Nashville pop-country. Had the song been released on a major label, it likely would have received considerable airplay.

You say I’ve done a lot of good

You’re glad I found you when I did

But I wonder why you keep

Those questions in your head

Oh I think you’re afraid to fall

Someone went and blew the call


All I can say is my heart tries hard

Try as hard as I can

You’ll never find that my love falls short

One day you’ll understand

That I’ve got a heart that can

The next track is a cover of Hal Ketcham’s recent hit “Past The Point of Rescue”. Robin sings the lead with trio harmonies. Olga Arseniev plays the accordion. The song is taken at the same tempo as Ketcham’s hit but with different instrumentation, resulting in a very nice recording.

Martie Erwin and Matthew Benjamin composed the mid-tempo swing instrumental “Beatin’ Around The Bush”. David Peters joins in on mandolin and Matthew Benjamin plays guitar.

“Two Of A Kind” was written by John Ims. Laura Lynch sings the vocal (no vocal harmonies) on this lovely medium -slow ballad. Dave Peters and Lloyd Maines appear on this track.

On the road without a friend

Can make you feel life’s loneliness

In a voice that rides the wind

Streaming ‘cross the airwaves

In a simple country song

The one that you don’t hear

Until the moon is full

It was Texas once again

The one about the good old boy

Who’s caught remembering

Images of childhood

And the places that he’d been

Caught up in his questions

Wondering where it would end


Another midnight on the highway

Dallas in the distance

Seems I’m always leaving love behind

Singing along with someone

Who’s soul is on the radio

Sounds like me and the good old boy

Are two of a kind

“Standing By The Bedside was written by I. Tucker with Laura Lynch on lead vocals and the rest doing harmonies. Jeff Hellmer guests on piano. The song is a medium temp western swing number. The lyric is religious in nature about a sister who is at death’s door.

The best song on the album is “Aunt Mattie’s Quilt, co-written by Robin Lynn Macy and Lisa Brandenburg. Robin sings the lead with trio harmonies. The song is more of a folksong story-ballad, but

it fits the album nicely. Larry Seyer guests on piano and Dave Peters is back on mandolin.

Aunt Mattie bent a thousand times down the long black rows

Then battled with the angry weeds so little seeds could grow

Come summer Mattie pulled the snow from cruel and cutting bolls

She was patient pale and slender and was only eight years old

Round and round the spinning wheel beneath Aunt Mattie’s boot

She recalled the soil and cotton seeds and summer’s hopeful shoots

Two winters spun out summer’s threads in rich and creamy folds

And she had a bolt of cotton cloth when she turned ten years old

Many acts, in many different genres, have covered the Ray Charles classic “Hallelejah I Love Him (Her) So”. The Chicks take on the song is novel with bass and drums basically carrying the song instrumentally.

Robin Lynn Macy sings lead with the rest joining in on subdued harmony.

The album closes with a Laura Lynch- Martie Erwin composition titled “Pink Toenails”. Laura Lynch lead vocals with the rest on vocal harmonies. Larry Spencer plays trumpet and Jeff Hellmer tinkles the ivories on the jazzy torch song.

Pink toenails, why don’t I have time to paint pink toenails?

I’ve got my pink foam curlers and my pony-tail

My girlfriends have time for their pink toenails

Come nightfall, you’ll be waltzing through my door

When you hear me call and I love the way you say

“I’m your baby doll” and you’ll find me sitting there

In my pink toenails

This is an outstanding album and I am torn as to whether or not I prefer this album or Thank Heavens For Dale Evans.

I originally purchased both albums on cassette and upgraded to CD after wearing out the cassettes. I would give both albums a solid A. On this album Laura Lynch occasionally plays bass but mostly just sings, Robin Lynn Macy is on guitar, Emily Erwin plays bass, guitjo, banjo and Martie Erwin plays fiddle and viola. The Erwin sisters are the stronger instrumentalists and Martie’s instrumental contributions are outstanding. Tom Van Schalk plays percussion/ drums.


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.

Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – A Place In The World

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s sixth album, A Place In The World, released in October of 1996, charted at #3 on the Country Albums chart and at #20 on Billboard’s 200 following two of her most successful albums, Come On Come On and Stones In The Road. Mary Chapin penned all the songs and co-produced the album with John Jennings as well. However, I wonder if its chart success wasn’t a direct result of the success of those previous two albums rather than the overall quality of the album itself. There are some good, and even great, songs on this album, but there are also some that don’t quite measure up to the standard Carpenter sets on her previous records.

Four singles made it onto the charts, though they are far from the best songs on the album. ‘Let Me Into Your Heart’ was the first one and almost broke the top ten in the U.S., coming in at #11. It made it all the way to #5 in Canada. Catchy, rhythmic, upbeat, with brass and back-up singers, it has a Motown soul feel to it instead of Country. But I found it unusual that none of the lyrics really grabbed me — one of the few MCC songs that I can say that about. The unremarkable last chorus is an example:

You’re like a sweet smile to these tired eyes
You’re like the last mile on a long ride
Oh I never believed in the arms of fate
But to be in yours darling, I believe I’d wait
‘Til the end of time for a chance to start
If you’d just let me into your heart

Second to chart was ‘I Want To Be Your Girlfriend’. It only made it to #35. It’s another up-tempo number but with somewhat better lyrics and a bit of humor about how a crush feels like a crush even when you’re no longer a teenager:

You used to be just this guy I knew from that same old scene
For all the time that I’ve known you, just now I’m noticing
That everything there is to feel, feels worse than any teenage crush
And all the times that I’ve been near you, now I can’t get near enough

Someone described it as “bubblegum pop” in a 60s style which fits that teenage crush mood. Fun song, but back-to-back, light, up-tempo numbers without a lot of meat to them must not have worked after the stellar hits of the previous couple years. Carpenter’s momentum on the charts began to wane.

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Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Stones In The Road’

Following the multi-platinum success of 1992’s Come On, Come On, Mary Chapin Carpenter released her fifth album, Stones In The Road in October 1994. Though it didn’t sell as well as its predecessor, it was quite successful at both retail and radio, racking up sales in excess of 2 million units and spawning Mary Chapin’s one and only #1 country hit, “Shut Up And Kiss Me.” It also added two more Grammys to her growing awards collection, one for Best Country Album and Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “Shut Up And Kiss Me.” Longtime collaborator John Jennings once again assumed co-production duties.

I’m at a loss to think of another album that balances commercial considerations with art as skillfully as this one. Just country enough to fall within the constraints of radio, the album also serves up a generous amount of folk. The opening track, the Celtic-tinged “Why Walk When You Can Fly?” is my favorite. Like all of the other songs on the album, it was written by Mary Chapin, and originally recorded by Joan Baez two years earlier. The melody reminds me of “Saw You Running”, written by Irish songwriter Thom Moore and recorded by Mary Black at approximately the same time that Stones In The Road was released. “Why Walk When You Can Fly?” was released as the album’s fourth and final single, signaling a growing willingness on the part of Mary Chapin and the Sony brass to push the boundaries at country radio. In retrospect, however, it may have been a misstep as the record stalled at #45 and none of Carpenter’s subsequent single releases performed particularly well on the charts.

After “Why Walk When You Can Fly?”, the album changes pace somewhat abruptly with “House of Cards”, a more radio-friendly tune that peaked at #21. This is a play-it-safe tune for Carpenter, similar in style to some of her earlier hits such as “The Hard Way” and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.” “House of Cards” is followed by the title track, a beautifully written tune in which Mary Chapin recalls her school days in the first verse, the Robert F. Kennedy assassination and the turbulence of the 1960s in the second, and the increasingly hectic pace of modern life in the third. The stones in the road start out as diamonds in the dust in the opening verse, but by the end of the song, Carpenter laments, they “leave a mark from whence they came.” Too heavy for radio, it comes as no surprise that “Stones In The Road” was not released as a single.

Another highlight is the mid-tempo “A Keeper For Every Flame,” which seems as though it should have been a candidate for single release. It is followed by another mid-tempo number, “Tender When I Want To Be”, which holds the dubious distinction of being the last Mary Chapin Carpenter single to ever reach the The Top 10, peaking at #6. Next up is the aforementioned “Shut Up And Kiss Me”, which despite being the biggest hit on this album, is actually one of my least favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter songs, at least as far as the big hits are concerned.

“The Last Word” is another one of my favorites, second only to “Why Walk When You Can Fly?” After this point, the album unfortunately becomes very ballad-heavy, more folk-oriented, and often borders on tedious. “Jubilee”, another Celtic-flavored number, is the only song after the seventh track, that I truly enjoyed. “John Doe No. 24”, tells the true story of a blind, deaf, and mute man who was found wandering the streets of Jacksonville, Illinois in 1945 and spent the next 48 years in state mental health institutions until his death in 1993. Though well written, it is possibly the most depressing song I have ever heard. Like most of the songs on the second half of the album, it drones on for way too long, clocking in at a whopping five minutes and 44 seconds.

As always, Mary Chapin’s songwriting is stellar, as is the production. There is nothing among these 13 tracks that can be said to be even close to traditional country, but the album still manages to appeal to country fans. It also won Mary Chapin a considerable number of new non-country fans. In addition to its double-platinum sales in the United States, it sold 100,000 units in Canada, earning platinum status there, and like Come On, Come On, it earned silver status in the United Kingdom, for sales excess of 60,000 units in that country. The album’s biggest flaw lies in its sequencing; the first half is enjoyable enough, but the overabundance of ballads (and long ones at that) in the second half caused me to lose interest in it. This is one of those albums that needs to be shuffle-played, in order to get a better mix of ballads and uptempo songs.

Grade: B+

Stones In The Road is readily available on CD and in digital form from Amazon and iTunes.

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.

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Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Shooting Straight In The Dark’

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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Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Hometown Girl’

Columbia Records’ strategy to market Mary Chapin Carpenter as a country artist is said to have begun with the release of her breakthrough sophomore album State of the Heart (reviewed by Meg last year as part of our Class of ’89 coverage). Prior to that her music was more heavily influenced by folk than country; her 1987 debut album Hometown Girl is a good example of the type of music she was making before she found her commercial niche.

I can’t help wondering who the intended audience was for this album. In its original, independent-release incarnation, I imagine that this was more of a straight folk album. It was re-recorded when Mary landed her deal with Columbia, and producer Steve Buckingham — known for his work with Dolly Parton, Ricky Van Shelton, and Tammy Wynette, among others — was brought in as a co-producer, in order to make the album more commercially appealing. It’s odd that a Nashville producer would be brought aboard before the decision was made to market Mary as a country artist, and stranger yet, that once his commercial flourishes were add to the album, Columbia declined to release any singles and seems to have made little or no attempt to promote Mary to country radio.

Since I’m not a huge Mary Chapin Carpenter fan, I didn’t buy this album when it was first released. Like most people, I didn’t even become aware of her until State of the Heart was released. As a result, I listened to the album for the first time when I was preparing to write this review, which gives me a different perspective than if I were looking back at an album that I’d been listening to for over twenty years. My first impression was that while Hometown Girl is not Mary’s very best work, it is vastly superior to the majority of the overproduced music coming out of Nashville today. Even at this early stage in her career, Mary’s talent as a songwriter is readily apparent. She was the sole writer on seven of the album’s ten songs, and was a co-writer with John Jennings (who co-produced the album with Buckingham) on an eighth song. Her skill in writing literate lyrics is reminiscent of fellow folkie Nanci Griffith, who was making her own attempt to find mainstream commercial success on a major Nashville label around the same time that Hometown Girl was released.
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Spotlight Artist: Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary Chapin Carpenter is not your traditional-bred country star.  Born in Princeton, New Jersey, the daughter of a major publishing executive, she lived briefly abroad in Japan before the family settled in Washington, D.C. for the duration of her childhood.  The young Carpenter attended private schools before graduating from Ivy League Brown University in 1981 with a degree in American Civilization.

Though she had grown up loving music and playing the guitar in her spare time, she really had no plans to make music a career.  At her father’s urging, she performed at an open-mic night at a local Washington club.  She was soon playing the club circuit in and around Washington.  During this time, she met John Jennings, who would figure largely in her career.  He encouraged the songwriter in Carpenter to blossom and with him, she began performing original material.  She soon landed a deal with Columbia Records.

Carpenter’s first album, Hometown Girl, charted no hits, but did receive a little airplay on college stations and public radio. It wasn’t until Columbia began to push Mary Chapin Carpenter as a country artist that she would find a national audience. Her second album would prove to be her breakthrough to the country audience.  Released in 1989 and charting her first hit singles, State of the Heart would plant Mary Chapin Carpenter in with the fabled Class of ’89 in country music.  The first single from State of the Heart, ‘How Do’ sailed into the top 20 of the country singles chart, and started a run of successful singles for Carpenter – all at least top 20 or better – that lasted through 1995.  In 1990, she was awarded the Top New Female Vocalist trophy from the Academy of Country Music.  That Fall, though she didn’t win any awards, she stole the show at the CMA Awards with her performance of the witty and playful ‘Opening Act’.

In 1992, she released the landmark set Come On Come On.  Producing an unprecedented 7 hit singles and selling more than 5 million copies, it would be Carpenter’s most successful album.  The singles from this album would chart from 1992 to 1994, during which time she picked up the Top Female Vocalist trophy from the Academy of Country Music and back-to-back awards for Female Vocalist at the Country Music Association show in 1992 and ’93.  Meanwhile, she started a still-unmatched run of wins for Best Country Female Vocal Performance from the Grammy’s, winning the award consecutive 4 years from 1992 to ’95.

Following the mega-success of Come On Come On, Stones In The Road was released in 1994 to much anticipation.  It would become Carpenter’s first and only #1 album on the country charts upon its debut, and eventually sell 2 million copies.  ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’, the lead single from Stones In The Road is also Mary Chapin Carpenter’s lone chart-topper among 21 top 40 hits, including 9 top 10’s.  1996’s A Place In The World was less successful than its predecessors, not producing any major hits – one top 20 with ‘Let Me Into Your Heart’ going to #11 – and moving just over 500,000 copies to be certified gold.

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Class of ’89 Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘State Of The Heart’

stateoftheheart1Singer/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. 

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