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Mary Chapin Carpenter - A Widescreen Soundtrack from a Great Storyteller
on 20 January 2014
The days when her label marketed Mary Chapin Carpenter as a country singer are a thing of the past. She is a multi faceted talent and a songwriter of real distinction. Her last album 2012's "Ashes and Roses" was a deeply moving account of her illness through a pulmonary embolism that "hit" (as is so often the case) at a time of other testing life episodes. In one sense this new album "Songs from the Movie" is a continuation of that album making her brand of pop, folk and country almost unclassifiable. But in this case "Songs" has the added dimension of being recorded at Air Studios in London with super arranger and conductor Vince Mendoza renown for his sterling work with Joni Mitchell and a host of other artists. The presence of an orchestra fits with Chapin Carpenter's music like a perfectly formed pair of your favourite old jeans. The song choices equally are a poignant snapshot of her career to date set out as a thematic overview.
As for the great "I am a town" it could come a with a 100% money back satisfaction guarantee and its safe to say she wouldn't lose a cent. It is wonderful. The vocal is beautifully controlled and Mendoza and his orchestra's swirl are luminous not least at 4.12 when they nail the song so completely you could hang a picture on it. Ditto on the brilliant "Ideas are like stars" from "Place in the World". There are dangers in orchestral approaches that the whole thing becomes overly ornate and drowns out the pure simplicity of some of the songs. The good news is that Mendoza's arrangements are tasteful and often exquisite. Similarly Mary Chapin Carpenter's delivery is never over stated yet always heartfelt. This is no more so than on the closer "Goodnight America" which even surpasses the lovely version on "Between here and gone". This reviewer can be a hardened old cynic but will readily admit to a rather large lump in the throat upon the songs conclusion. There are also further treats in store with the Parisian imagery of the sumptuous "Come on, Come on" and the emotive "Dreaming Road". In truth there is not a bad track in sight and while some may bemoan the absence of some more upbeat tracks this would be to completely miss the point of the albums purpose.
It was George Orwell who once stated that in Britain that "not to expose your true feelings to an adult seems to be instinctive from the age of seven or eight onwards'. Carpenter has never been tainted with such personal repression. Like Joni Mitchell she is singer who wears her heart on her sleeve, records her high and lows, triumphs and anguish and tells you what she is feeling. "Songs from the Movie" is a glorious career summation avoiding a simple "Best of" format and choosing songs that are also some of the best examples of her skill as a storyteller. This combined with one of the most pure contralto voices in the business and orchestration, which oozes class, makes "Song for the Movies" an irresistible treat.