If Mary Chapin Carpenter fans search out her latest CD, Between Here and Gone, expecting to find a couple of breezy, up-tempo songs like "Shut Up and Kiss Me," "I Feel Lucky" or "Down At the Twist and Shout," they will be sorely disappointed.
Nearly all of the songs on the album are ballads or decidedly reflective mid-tempo tunes that feature largely acoustic and judiciously applied instrumentation -- and the kind of rich melodies that have always been a Carpenter trademark.
Carpenter says she can't really explain why she wrote so many subdued songs.
"It's sort of like these were the songs that came out of me in the past few years," she states matter-of-factly. But Carpenter certainly knows why it would have been, to use her own word, idiotic to have pushed a catchy, up-tempo tune or two into the mix.
"To have said, 'Well, I think I need a snappy song just to snap it up,' that would have felt something like an affectation," she says. "It would have felt like the record company (Columbia Records Nashville) was sort of coming to me and saying, 'Well, you need some candy.' You know, God bless them, they didn't come to me with that, and I really respect them for that."
As Carpenter's comments suggest, Between Here and Gone is arguably the most musically understated CD of her 18-year recording career. And while she has always been one of the most articulate and incisive lyricists, the CD, perhaps more than any of the five-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter's previous releases, stands as a cohesive whole, with a predominant theme tying the songs together.
In an overall sense, many of the songs involve a spiritual search in which the characters are trying to find peace of mind, some understanding and a place in the world.
On the new CD's title song, for instance, Carpenter's protagonist can't quite explain what made her suddenly "leave her only home." She reflects on the moment: "Yeah I'm just wondering how we know where we belong/Is it in a photograph, or a dashboard poet's song/Will I have missed my chance to right some ancient wrong/Should I find myself between here and gone."
That's a thought that resonates throughout much of Between Here and Gone, including "One Small Heart," the first song Carpenter wrote for the new CD.
"That is about someone who is on a drive and finding themselves leaving, and finding transformation and deliverance in that act of going," Carpenter says of the song. "Sometimes taking a drive can cure everything that ails you. It's a meditation; it's a redemption of sorts and can kind of cleanse you in a way. When I finished that song, I sort of found myself writing songs that followed it that really repeated the same theme."
While Carpenter cautions fans that the songs are not necessarily autobiographical, she says they probably reflect what has been a period of considerable change in her life and with the world around her.
In June 2002, she married Tim Smith, a contractor from Virginia, and since then has moved from her longtime home of Washington, D.C., to the Blue Ridge Mountains of south-central Virginia.
"I suppose that in a way it (the CD) was mirroring things that were going on in my own life because I was meeting my soon-to-be-husband and finding the place that I belonged," Carpenter says. "It was a spiritual thing that was sort of happening to me.
"I guess those references, those sort of mirroring things that happened to us, there was a reason for that."
-- Alan Sculley
Mary Chapin Carpenter and guest Mindy Smith
Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Friday, April 29, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $28.50-$46, call 520-7469 for info.