Monday, 6 May 2019

Mary Chapin Carpenter - A Place In The World (1996)


Released October 1996

This is probably the last album in the first phase of Mary Chapin Carpenter's career. It would be five years until her next one, and although that one, "Time*Sex*Love" is an upbeat, rock offering, there has always been, for me, a feeling that this one was a transitional album, the last of the lively country rock outings. The previous album, "Stones In The Road" has started to show hints of the wise, observational, sensitive lyrics that would dominate her post 2000 output, but this one took a last opportunity to go back to the punchy but melodic, guitar-driven country rock of "Come On Come On" and "Shooting Straight In The Dark". A lot of the songs are romantic in theme, but enriched by MCC's by now typical lovable cynicism. Mary has always had an ear for a catchy melody and an instinct for a killer lyric. While this is not my favourite of her albums, there is still some good stuff on here.

While there is still quite a bit of reflective mature country folk on the album, plenty of room is also made for hook-laden, radio friendly country rock too. It is far more of a lively album than a mournful one.


1. Keeping The Faith
2. Hero In Your Hometown
3. I Can See It Now
4. I Want To Be Your Girlfriend
5. Let Me In To Your Heart
6. What If We Went To Italy
7. That's Real
8. Ideas Are Like Stars
9. Naked To The Eye
10. Sudden Gift Of Fate
11. The Better To Dream Of You
12. A Place In The World                              

"Keeping The Faith" is a delightfully riffy number, with some Stonesy guitar and cowbell lines and a strong vocal from MCC, proving that she can rock when she wants to. Post-2000, she really wouldn't do much like this anymore. The track vaguely reminds me of Mott The Hoople's "Midnight Lady", a long forgotten single from 1971. "Hero In Your Hometown" is a slice of MCC classic country rock and very typical of her material in the mid nineties. "I Can See It Now" slows down the pace, but only a little, as it still has an infectious melody, with a clear, seductive vocal and clear acoustic and drum backing. "I Want To Be Your Girlfriend" is a tongue-in-cheek poppy rocker, full of jangly and appealing guitar. It is very much the essence of MMC during this period. These are songs written and sung by a woman in her late mid/late thirties, full of supposed angst over relationships but quite a lot of gentle humour and self-deprecation too.

"Let Me In Your Heart" is a joyful, Memphis-style horns-driven soulful number, a bit like U2's "Angel Of Harlem". The tranquil "What If We Went To Italy" has Mary visiting her popular subject of travel, particularly to Europe. It is nice to hear an American singing with such a feel for Europe. The track features some typically Italian accordion and mandolin.

"That's Real" has a nice mid-pace twangy guitar riff and solid rock beat and echoes of some of the material on "Shooting Straight In The Dark". It is a slightly sad song, despite its chugging rhythm. It reminds me of Bruce Springsteen's early nineties stuff in places. "Ideas Are Like Stars" is a slow, acoustic and beautiful song. "Naked To The Eye" rides in on an infectious riff and strong vocal. It is full of hooks, in the melody, verses and chorus. Again, there is something Springsteen-esque about it. "Sudden Gift Of Fate" is gentle and tender, beautifully sung. "The Better To Dream Of You" returns to that archetypal MCC rock sound, with another eminently singable chorus.

The title track is the moving closer MCC often gives us on her albums - a poignant, reflective number that would not be out of place on her more recent, mature albums.

In conclusion, while I like and admire the later material MCC has put out in her fifties and sixties for their sadness and sensitivity, sometimes you just can't beat these 1987-1996 albums for their sheer joie de vivre and carefree but intelligent country rock.


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