Amongst her enviable back catalogue Mary Chapin Carpenter has demonstrated an unerring ability to mix tuneful and literate ballads with songs that are unafraid to rock out in all the right places. On her first full studio offering since 2007's superlative The Calling, she has delivered a much more laid back and largely acoustic selection of slower numbers inspired by a life-threatening health scare. The reflective style is more one-dimensional than usual, lacking the customary counterbalance of ballads and rockier numbers, though is far from bereft of Carpenter's customary deft touch with a well-chosen lyric. The cumulative effect occasionally becomes claustrophobic, and when she does let loose, as on 'What You Look For' and 'The Way I Feel' it comes as a relieving draught of fresh air rushing through a stuffy room as the melodies suddenly breathe and soar.
Many of these songs lack the immediacy that typifies much of Mary Chapin Carpenter's best work, but they do repay repeated listening for their subtleties to become more apparent. Songs like 'I Put My Ring Back On' and 'The Age Of Miracles' capture much of the usual magic, but others like 'Iceland' and 'Holding Up The Sky' demand more attention and hard work. Never a true Nashville star, veering increasingly towards folk, Mary Chapin Carpenter remains one of the best songwriters operating in this genre. It may be that this album was not intended to be a crowd-pleaser, more a work of personal significance that dresses to impress rather than dazzle. As with everything else that she has done, it is well worth sticking with it.