Friday, 17 August 2018
Mary Chapin Carpenter - Stones in The Road (1994)
Released October 1994
Recorded in Nashville
It was on this album, after the commercial, radio-friendly sounds of 1992's "Come on Come On" that we saw the first hints of the more stripped-down, quieter, folkier, reflective songs that would come to characterise Mary Chapin Carpenter's subsequent albums from this point on. It wasn't quite a full "turning point" however, but there certainly were signs. Lyrics are very much to the fore here, (as if they weren't already). Mary Chapin Carpenter should never, ever be pigeonholed as a country artist. This is a masterpiece of singer-songwriting talent. It is barely country at all, let's be honest.
"Why Walk When You Can Fly" is a low-key opener - melodic and haunting. Mary rocks out on "House Of Cards", which surely "borrows" the guitar riff from Bruce Springsteen's "Two Hearts". There is actually quite a lot of Springsteen-esque material on this album. It is probably Mary's most "rock" album, although there is still some much quieter, gentler stuff on here too. The title track is a beautiful song, looking back to childhood in Mary's usual wry, wise and somewhat solemn way. It has a lovely piano break in the middle too. "A Keeper For Every Flame" all has Mary going all Bruce in some ways. It is an excellent, insistent but catchy rock song. "Tender When I Want To Be" could also be straight off "The River" too, with slight Tex-Mex hints of The Mavericks too in places. "Shut Up And Kiss Me" follows in the footsteps of "The Bug" and "I Feel Lucky" from the previous album - barroom country bluesy rock.
"The Last Word" begins with an almost Lynyrd Skynyrd-style guitar riff and is a slow, shuffling rock number. In many ways, this is Mary's "heaviest" album, if there is such a thing. "The End Of My Pirate Days" is a piano-driven sombre but gently-delivered sad song, while, on every MCC album, there is also one huge tear-jerker. This album's one is the heartbreaking "John Doe No. 24" - a tragic, deeply moving tale from the past enhanced by some simply gorgeous soprano saxophone, from Branford Marsalis, no less. There is not much I can say except to listen to the song. The atmosphere created by Mary's lyrics is just breathtaking. You just have to take a minute after it finishes to snap yourself back to the present. I find the song so unbearably emotional I can barely listen to it, to be honest. "While I drew breath no-one missed me, so they won't on the day that I cease...". That line is often in my head. Come on man, pull yourself together.
"Jubilee" rouses things back with a big, passionate, vaguely Celtic-sounding drinkalong song. It sounds mournfully Irish to me, for some reason. Van Morrison could deliver the song well, I think. Or Deacon Blue, too, thinking about it. "Outside Looking In" is another mid-paced riffy rock number with some great guitar bits on it. "Where Time Stands Still" is a haunting, vocal and piano number, while "This Is Love" is a big chorus closer to an album which I have to say doesn't move me quite in the way that some of MCC's other albums do, but then again, they are almost impossible to live up to, and this is still a good album. Mary doesn't do bad albums.
- August 17, 2018