Friday, 19 October 2018

Mary Chapin Carpenter - Ashes And Roses (2012)


  

Released June 2012

This is probably the most sensitive, personal and possibly self-analytical album from the genuine songwriting talent that is the wonderful Mary Chapin Carpenter.

“Transcendental Reunion” is a beautiful opener with melodic, expressive verses and a catchy upbeat refrain with Mary on strident, confident vocal form. This album has Carpenter speaking directly from her heart, as opposed to telling narrative tales about other people’s perspectives. “What To Keep And What To Throw Away” is a heartbreaking song about the aftermath of a divorce. The lyrics could also apply to the period after someone has died. It is a remarkably sensitive song, one that very few songwriters could express as movingly as Mary Chapin Carpenter does here. She really is a most unique, wise and understanding songwriter.

“The Swords We Carried” is another song about betrayal, trust and loss. There is so much emotional power in these beautiful acoustic guitar, piano and bass-backed songs, the tinkling piano added like tears as we reflect on fate, bad luck, fortitude and wisdom. “Another Home”, with its ethereal vocals over a gently picked acoustic guitar, is just so entrancing.

As I said at the beginning, this is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s most intensely personal album. It is no upbeat, good time album. It is one of maturity, ageing, sadness, reality, grief, hope and dignity. Yes, above all it is dignified. Quiet, stoic, honest and dignified. “Chasing What’s Already Gone” is a song of nostalgia and acceptance of your own past mistakes. The honesty in some of these songs is remarkable. There is nothing remotely commercial about this material. I’m not sure if MCC is bothered about sales at all, her muse wants her to put this stuff out there and if people like me pick up on it, all the better, but if nobody does, no matter.

“I saw my father in a dream last night, he was smiling and saying “you’re gonna be alright”….”. Lines like that resonate so much with me. I’ve had that same dream.

“Learning The World” is another immensely moving song about loss and grief. It is a difficult listen, but also a cathartic one.

“Grief rides quietly on the passenger side
Unwanted company on a long, long drive
It turns down the quiet songs and turns up the din
It goes where you go, it's been where you've been….


As you can see from the above words, the song is utterly heartbreaking.

Time for a bit of relief? No chance. “I Tried Going West” is a bit more powerful, muscially, but its message is another one about escape from oneself, from issues one is unable to cope with, Love. betrayal and the like. Some great guitar lifts the song higher, however. Don’t worry, Mary, you’ll make it through eventually. It’ll be a long road though. “Don’t Need Much To Be Happy” is her coming out the other side. It is a song of strength and resilience. “Soul Companion” is a duet with a male singer (not sure who) which again is a song of positivity, both lyrically and musically, with its upbeat melody.

“Old Love” is a tender, tuneful but solemn and poignant song. “New Year’s Day” is just lovely. I cannot express enough the sheer, expressive beauty of some of these songs. Don’t believe me? Just check it out. It is full of stunning images of the simplest human kind. “It’s the folds of summer dresses, the perfume on my wrist, the way you play guitar, like a boxer punches with his fist….”. Great stuff. “Fading Away” has Mary forgetting her old lover, while “Jericho” has her considering her future, maybe with someone else, against a solo piano backing. You know I worry for Mary. She should have settled down by now. This has been a difficult listen, like spending an evening listening to a good friend’s relationship problems and patiently trying to be there for them and being happy when they seem to be coming out the other side.

B+

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