Friday, 17 August 2018

Mary Chapin Carpenter - Hometown Girl (1987)


  

Released July 1987

Recorded in Nashville

This was Mary Chapin Carpenter's much underrated, beautiful, melodic debut album. It is an album of a young girl singing the most tender, sensitive, moving and wise beyond her years songs. It is one of my favourite albums.

It is more "country" than her subsequent albums, probably the most so of her output, but certainly is different from the stereotypical crying in the roadhouse over your divorce and unfaithful, feckless husband sort of fare. While it was recorded in Nashville, it is not your typical Nashville album. It is based around the expected acoustic strumming guitar and some fetching violin breaks, with some electric guitar, but a bit less than on her later albums. All the songs are irresistibly catchy and tuneful. Mary has a real ear for a melody and a hook, and her lyrics are just so emotive, observant and you har them and just find yourself nodding in agreement with whatever it is she has just sung.

"A Lot Like Me" is lively but gently romantic, while "Other Streets and Other Towns" is just a gorgeous slow country ballad, but with a real soulful twist in its delivery. The music is not all steel guitars, far from it, there are hardly any at all. The guitar solo on this song, for example, is pure laid-back rock. Mary had obviously been in love when writing this album, many of the songs are impossibly romantic. "Hometown Girl" is just lovely. Mary is, as she often can be, disarmingly self-analytical and self-critical. This is her "At Seventeen". When she starts singing this song, it genuinely sends shivers down my spine, shivers of pure emotion. It makes me extremely sad and reflective. "I was young but somehow I knew the difference between a man and a fool...". What a line. "What happened to that hometown girl...." wonders Mary, already mature beyond her tender years, already looking back. The past is always Mary's future. As is mine. That is why I love her lyrics so.

Her cover of Tom Waits' "Downtown Train" is excellent - soulful and evocative, full of subtly sexy feeling. I love this version. Then we come to "Family Hands", up there in my top five MCC songs of all time. It is full of beautiful lyrical images. I love the lyrics so much I'm going to break with tradition and quote the whole damn song:-

"Last Sunday we got in the car and we drove 
To the town you were raised in, your boyhood home 
The trees were just turning, up on the ridge 
And this was your valley when you were a kid 
You showed me the railroad that your daddy worked on  
As we neared the old house where your granny lives on 
She's nearing ninety years now, with her daughters by her side 
Who tend the places in the heart where loneliness can hide

Raised by the women who are stronger than you know 

A patchwork quilt of memory only women could have sewn 
The threads were stitched by family hands, protected from the moth 
By your mother and her mother - the weavers of your cloth

Your grandmother owned a gun in 1932

When times were bad just everywhere; you said she used it too 
And the life and times of everyone are traced inside their palms 
Her skin may be so weathered, but her grip is still so strong 
And I see your eyes belong to her and to your mama too 
A slice of Virginia sky, the clearest shade of blue

Raised by the women who are stronger than you know 

A patchwork quilt of memory only women could have sewn 
The threads were stitched by family hands, protected from the moth 
By your mother and her mother--the weavers of your cloth

And a rich man you might never be; they'd love you just the same 

They've handed down so much to you besides your Christian name 
And the spoken word won't heal you like the laying on of hands 
Belonging to the ones who raised you to a man

Raised by the women who are stronger than you know 

A patchwork quilt of memory only women could have sewn 
The threads were stitched by family hands, protected from the moth 
By your mother and her mother - the weavers of your cloth." 

Mary Chapin Carpenter 1987.

Wonderful. Check it out. It speaks for itself.

"A Road Is Just A Road" livens proceedings up, name checking many US towns along the way. It is a vibrant piece of country rock, and is another of my favourites. I have always found the last few songs on the album not quite as jaw-droppingly good as the first six, but they are still certainly not bad. "Come On Home" is a beautiful, slow, mournful ballad with a beautiful violin backing. "Waltz" utilises a waltz beat as the title suggests, but it is a slow country waltz, with romantic lyrics and a sumptuous country violin break in the middle. "Just Because" is another slowie, with Mary's voice at its most yearning and heartbreaking. "Heroes And Heroines" is a lovely song that was effectively re-sung on 2018's "Sometimes Just The Sky". It is yet another genuinely moving number that closed this most impressive debut album from an artist whose music has uplifted, saddened and inspired me over many years.

B+

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