Down A Notch
Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Between Here and Gone takes a more serious stance than her past albums.
Thursday, June 17, 2004
When asked why she chose to record her tenth studio album in Nashville, a place where the country/folk artist has never recorded a release before, Mary Chapin Carpenter has a surprisingly simple answer.
“Budgets,” she says while laughing. “It was a budgetary decision. I was just trying to save money.”
Despite the easy answer to the recording query, when asked other questions about her latest CD, Between Here and Gone, Carpenter does not have any simple explanations. That might be because Between Here and Gone is no simple country pop album. The release is without any unabashedly fun songs, like her 1990 hit, “Down at the Twist and Shout.” Instead, her new album is a contemplative release about complicated issues like grief, loss, transcendence and love, put out by a middle-aged artist.
“I think it is a pretty honest thing to say that these are not necessarily songs I would have written when I was twenty,” Carpenter says. “That doesn’t make them dour, down in the mouth or melancholy to me. They just dig a little deeper, that’s all.”
One very noticeable theme throughout the release is an examination of traveling and journeys as a metaphor for change, shown in songs like “Luna’s Gone,” “One Small Heart” and “Elysium.” For Carpenter, the songs are a reflection of where she was in her life while the album was being made.
“I just think that is where my head was when I was writing these songs,” she says. “Sort of the search for belonging. A place to land.”
Carpenter believes that just getting out and driving can be a positive experience. “Sometimes I think when you are troubled, you can take a drive and it can cure everything that ails you,” she says.
One of Between Here and Gone ’s standout tracks is a majestic folky ballad that Carpenter wrote on the first anniversary of 9-11, after hearing a radio interview with an ironworker who was laboring in the wreckage at Ground Zero.
“He felt a transformation take place in himself,” she says of the impetus behind her song, “Grand Central Station.” “He found himself going to Grand Central Station after his shift was done. In a way, feeling like he maybe was transporting their souls there and helping them catch their trains home.”
Despite some somber material, Between Here and Gone ends on an uplifting note with “Elysium.” The mostly acoustic song, with fiddle weaving in and out of the music, is about someone finding his or her place in the world. On the number, Carpenter sings, “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 out/ The closer you come/ To Elysium.”
But the five-time Grammy winner says she was far from knowing what direction her life was going to take after graduating from Brown University in the mid ‘70s.
“I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do with my degree in American Civilization,” she says. “While I was trying to figure that out, I would just try to support myself playing in clubs in DC.”
Eventually, a demo tape that Carpenter made with guitarist John Jennings found its way to an A & R guy at Columbia Records. In 1987, the songs on that demo tape were released as her debut CD, Hometown Girl .
Though her third album, Shooting Straight in the Dark, introduced Carpenter to a wider audience, her subsequent CD, 1992’s Come On Come On, was a massive breakthrough album with seven hit country singles including “I Feel Lucky,” “Passionate Kisses” and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.” Carpenter, for one, did not anticipate that the album would be such a huge release.
“I was proud of it,” she says. “I really believed in the songs, but I had no idea it would be so successful.”
Without any obvious breakout singles, it will be interesting to see if country radio embraces Carpenter’s new material. But, Carpenter does not seem concerned about trying to create records that will appeal to country radio.
“I try not to concern myself with the radio landscape, and I just try to be true to my songs,” she says.
Mary Chapin Carpenter plays the Sunset Center, San
Carlos and 9th in Carmel, this Thursday at 8pm. $65.