Mary Chapin Carpenter
Ashes and Roses
added: 5 Jul 2012
// release date: 2 Jul 2012 // label: Rounder
reviewer: David Spencer
It is impossible to listen to this latest offering from Mary Chapin Carpenter without wondering at the experience that led to its raw and emotional feel. And knowing the background to the album, it is impossible not to review the thirteen tracks without mentioning that very same back story. Illness, death and divorce fuel this reflective collection so heavily that a certain context is needed.
After suffering bouts of chest and back pain in 2007, the singer was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. When recovering her marriage came to an end, emotional turmoil followed by the death of her father. Carpenter says this is her most personal album, and it is easy to understand why. Without doubt we are being given an insight into – and indeed playing a role in – her psychological therapy.
As well as the most personal record of her career, Carpenter also says it is the most acoustic, and the opening Transcendental Reunion sets the tone. Over a delicate strumming guitar, this tale of the world of the airline traveller slowly builds, before it eventually takes off with a just right guitar solo. The sentiment she is trying to capture borrows from Richard Curtis’s Love Actually, as she sings “There is no one to meet me, yet I am all but surrounded, by the tears and embraces, by the joy unbounded of friends and relations.”
Transcendental Reunion sets the bar so high that the class of that opening track is never quite matched. A duet with James Taylor, Soul Companion, proves a dreamy change of gear half way through the album, as Carpenter begins to become less introspective. Before that, her divorce (Another Home) and withering social comment (The Swords We Carried) are both laced with the same note perfect acoustic feel. Chasing What’s Already Gone, with its reflections of time passing through memories of Instamatic camera pictures, is the closest she comes to matching the opening track.
Given what we now know about the ingredients poured into this record, the end result is not surprising. It is not an easy listen – and taken in one go, it can prove a bit heavy. Carpenter’s voice is still in fine form (at its best on the tender Jericho) and the musicianship is supremely accomplished. But it is all just a little perfect – as if the singer has on record tried to erase and hide any blemish. But underneath the gloss and silky façade, there is a little world of pain.
Stay updated with your free Music News daily newsletter. Subscribe here now!
Have Your Say
Click here to win an iPhone5!
> For more Music-News album reviews click here