Like her near contemporary Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter writes highly literate songs that are odes to introspection, confession, catharsis and loss. In 2007 she suffered a pulmonary embolism, her father died and she went through a divorce. The album seems to be a reflection upon those troubled times.
It is a gentle, mainly acoustic, work and she uses the voice and phrasing of a folk singer to explore the darker corners of the soul. As she explains in "The Swords We Carried"
"And grief became my company, pain so deep I could not breathe, All betrayal is like dying in slow motion".
In "Chasing What's Already Gone" her father appears in a dream to tell her "You're gonna be alright", but she felt as empty as she'd ever been:
"Ashes and roses and hearts that break I tried so hard to be strong But maybe my worries were not my first mistake I'm chasing what's already gone".
The lyrics are illuminated by a magical arrangement of Hammond B3, mandolin, acoustic guitars and piano. But as well as the lyrical content this is also an album of exquisite melodies and deliberately understated arrangements. A simple piano accompaniment on "Jericho" from producer Sonny Rollings is perfect as she confides:
"And you can't hear me yet, listening takes a long, long time, And I've so much to tell, but words die on these lips of mine".
Lyrics, melody and musicianship combine beautifully in "I Tried Going West":
"A letter a day I wrote back to you But not one you ever received 'cause I can't stand the man that lies like you do And I can't bear a woman who bleeds".
Because Mary's voice is so intrinsic to the spirit of the self penned songs the duet with James Taylor on "Soul Companion" doesn't contribute as much to the album as perhaps it should. But that is a minor quibble about an album that is a combination of lyrical and musical perfection.
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