Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Mary Chapin Carpenter - The Middle Ages (1991-2018)

 


Time*Sex*Love (2001)



Whenever You're Ready/Simple Life/Swept Away/Slave To The Beauty/Maybe World/What Was It Like/King Of Love/This Is Me Leaving You/Someone Else's Prayer/The Dreaming Road/Alone But Not Lonely/The Long Way Home/In The Name Of Love/Late For Your Life  

This is probably my least favourite Mary Chapin Carpenter album ( I have them all), largely because of the bombastic, typically early 2000s production, which means you have to turn it down to appreciate it (usually one wants to turn things up) and also because I feel the songs, on the whole, don't quite cut the mustard. It is very much a transitional album between the rousing country rock of the previous output and the wise, reflective material of subsequent albums. I feel Mary didn't quite know what she wanted to achieve with this album or where she was in her life. It is an album of someone whose younger days are behind them, but the placid wisdom of later years has yet to arrive.

Furthermore, as with many albums post-2000, it is way too long, at nearly seventy-four minutes, and loses artistic effect because of it. For some, it is seem as MCC's Sgt. Pepper, her meisterwerk, and that has to be acknowledged when assessing it.
                                 
Whenever You're Ready starts with a slow, atmospheric bit of Bruce Hornsby-esque piano before a chugging acoustic and drum steady beat kicks in and Mary's instantly recognisable, confident voice arrives. The powerful "la-la-la" chorus it is bit incongruous compared to the rest of the song. There is some good lead guitar and bass on here beneath the blustering production. 

Simple Life has understated verses about middle age and then it blasts into an almost Oasis-like chorus. Again, it doesn't fit with the rest of the song. Swept Away is a potentially effective ballad ruined by a sonorous bass line. Now I love bass, but this is just out of place. There is just no need for it on this song, certainly not as dominating as it is. So many artists/recordings fell into this mega-bass backing trap in this period. 

Slave To The Beauty is the most instantly recognisable MCC song so far, but somehow, once again the production is all wrong. This time, would you believe, the voice is muffled and too low down in the mix. What do I know, however, this is obviously how Mary wanted it so who am I to criticise it. I am just writing it as I hear it, in comparison to other albums. The string production on this track is also very similar to that which Bruce Springsteen would use on his Working On A Dream in 2009.

Maybe World starts like a Beach Boys/Mamas And The Papas tribute and progresses into an appealing song which is again somewhat let down by its overloud chorus. There are late sixties Beatles influences on here too, maybe inspired by the fact that the album was recorded in George Martin's AIR studios in London. 

What Was It Like is a sombre, reflective piano and vocal ballad. Once again, a thumping bass backing proves to be an unwelcome visitor half way through. 

King of Love is one of the album's best offerings - an evocative Tom Petty-ish slow pace rock song. That backing is still there - deal with it, it's here to stay on this album. There is lovely violin solo on this track, however. In many places this is a beautiful song.

This Is Me Leaving You provides a return to that angst-ridden, relationship gone wrong, country rock of the mid-nineties. It is the most archetypal MCC so far. as a fan of the previous albums, it is one of my favourites. 

Someone Else's Prayer is a lovely, moving ballad. This one is also up there in the top few songs. The quality continues on the sombre, thoughtful The Dreaming Road. It is as if MCC has suddenly stopped trying to give us big, contemporary, stadium-style choruses and reverts to what she knows best - moving songs with great lyrics about travel and relationships. Alone But Not Lonely is also an understated, quiet, reflective number.

The rock is back with the rousing, cynical The Long Way Home, which is my favourite on the album. Lyrically, Mary is back on the old career woman observational theme. 

In The Name Of Love is also an upbeat, rousing number. Late For Your Life is a lovely song on which to close with.

I really ought to give this album more of a chance and try and get into more, but over the years since I have owned the album, it has never done it for me. I have to admit that listening to it again, as I write, it is growing on me. It has only taken nearly twenty years.


Between Here And Gone (2004)


What Would You Say To Me/Luna's Gone/My Heaven/Goodnight America/Between Here And Gone/One Small Heart/Beautiful Racket/Girls Like Me/River/Grand Central Station/The Shelter Of Storms/Elysium               

In many ways, this is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s most accomplished album. Written in the wake of 9/11 it contains some truly beautiful, emotive, mature and genuinely moving lyrics. It was certainly no country rock album, no tuneful guitar riffs and hooky choruses. Many of the songs are gentle, reflective and sung against a many-textured soundscape. It is packed full of emotion, but it is certainly not brooding or melancholy. It is certainly sad when it needs to be, but it is a sadness of maturity, of acceptance of mortality, of a beed to change but to respect the past. Feelings fly around the album, like swooping birds, they come and go, from song to song and eventually it all fits together in one complete, life-affirming whole. From quite a lot of sadness comes a state of grace, of spiritual, inner fulfilment. All this from a gnarled old punk like me? Yes, for sure.
                               
What Would You Say To Me is a fiddle backed gentle, country-ish slow groove with Mary’s voice just at its peak - melodic, expressive and that unique homeliness that makes you feel as if she is in your room and that you know her. Some lovely laid-back piano and guitar in the middle too. A big, dramatic instrumental and vocal ending lifts you up high. 

A fine piece of slide-style guitar introduces the lovely Luna's Gone. It has a hook, but it is a gentle hook. No tub thumper or country stomp.

My Heaven is one of my favourite songs of hers. A simply beautiful song where Mary ruminates on what it like in Heaven - her own personal Heaven - “Grandma’s  up here and Grandpa too, in a condo with “to die for” views...”. What a line. Also up there is her “childhood dog and Dad’s old chair”. I’m almost in tears just listening to it and writing this. Just one of my favourite songs of all time. No question.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, or any more moving comes Goodnight America, a beautifully sung, low key work of perfection. “I’m driving into Houston on a rain-swept Texas road...”. A gentle piano lifts the melody higher. A song full of character. Another quietly emotional song is Between Here And Gone, sung quietly against a gentle piano and violin backing. It is a song about loss and grief. The whole album moves me greatly.

One Small Heart has a slowly shuffling fiddle, slide guitar and drum beat and tender lyrics about “one small heart and a great big soul that’s driving...”. 

Beautiful Racket sees MCC break out her electric guitar and rock out a bit, albeit tunefully as always. Nobody else can make an upbeat, joyous rock song still sound so intrinsically sad. Uplifting yet reflective simultaneously. Some nice lead guitar at the end, almost Springsteenesque

Girls Like Me is familiar ground for Mary, exploring her shy, sensitive character and looking back on her younger days, Janis Ian style. 

River is a big, full, graceful slow rock song with a pounding drum sound and swirling E Street Band-style organ and clunking piano notes. Great guitar too. Mary’s voice is strong and dominating throughout.

Then there is Grand Central Station. It is a 9/11 song, but it is no flag-waving call for revenge. It is one man’s story of that day delivered sensitively by Mary Chapin Carpenter. It is impossibly emotive. It is a serious compliment to say Bruce Springsteen could not have written any better song than this.  “Tomorrow I’ll be back there working on the pile....”. Nothing more can be said. A truly mighty song.

Shelter From Storms wraps us in Mary’s emotional security again, with another sparsely-backed uplifting lament, if that is not to oxymoronic. Beautiful piano at the end. 

Elysium is a suitably titled closer for this heavenly-inspired album, an acoustically-driven reflective song that breaks out into a rising semi-chorus, accompanied by some mournful, almost Celtic violin. This is holy music. This was a holy album.

The Calling (2006)


The Calling/We're All Right/Twilight/It Must Have Happened/On And On It Goes/Your Life Story/Houston/Leaving Song/On With The Song/Closer And Closer Apart/Here I Am/Why Shouldn't We/Bright Morning Star 

Musically, Mary Chapin Carpenter embraces contemporary “new Nashville” somewhat on this initially muscular album. It is full of solid, powerful, mid-pace rock ballads with the drums and the bass turned up considerably. Lyrically, it is still the same reassuring, wise, sage Mary, however. As I mature through the years, she does too (we are the same age). She has a remarkable way of standing apart from the world and offering  words of wisdom from an almost deified position (for me anyway). She is my oracle. Listening to an MCC an album is an emotional journey. You can’t just put it on in the background. I feel I have been put through thewinfer by the end of the session. I feel it has been cathartic, too, however. Incredibly so.
                              
The Calling is a dignified, mid-pace and powerful ballad with Mary’s voice on fine evocative and righteous-sounding form. It rocks. So too, does the pulsating We're All Right. Both these tracks are packed full of those killer hooks she seems to be able to sum up at will.

She can also write a bucolic, mournful heartbreaker too. Twilight is definitely one of those, full of magical images about “walking though the gloaming at eventide”Twilight is almost used metaphorically to describe our ageing. MCC has such a marvellous understanding of human life and our fragile existence. I find listening to any of her songs both life-affirming and mournfully philosophical at the same time. 

The full-bodied rock sound is back on the thumping, riffy but melodic It Must Have HappenedOn And On It Goes is one of those sumptuous slow ballads she does so effortlessly. It has a beautiful bass line underpinning it.

 

Your Life Story is an upbeat number with a trademark MCC riff circa Come On Come On and Mary singing wryly about life, ageing and the like in the way she does that sounds knowing, experienced and wise, even if she was singing her shopping list. 

Houston is an MCC classic - atmospheric and deeply moving. I can’t get enough of this song. Leaving Song is in the same vein. She is unique in producing songs like this. Wonderful.

On With The Song is a rousing anti-nationalist, anti-racist anthem written in tribute to The Dixie Chicks who dared to speak out against such things. This song is more that just that. These days it is positively essential. “This isn’t for you and you know who you are…” Mary sings. God bless her. We need more of her like around.

Closer And Closer Apart is a plaintive, piano, bass and vocal haunting ballad. Simply beautiful. As we reach the end of the album, the ambience has turned sadder, more reflective, as if the angry, tub-thumping of On With The Song had made Mary quieter, taking stock of things. 

Here I Am is another solemn, serious and meaningful song. Why Shouldn't We has a real Springsteen-esque feel in its lyrical refrain. It is magnificently proud in a mature and dignified way. Packed full of zeal and evangelical conviction. 

Bright Morning Star is a low-key, tender song to see out this supremely sensitive piece of work. I am not an openly religious man. For me, listening to songs like these are as close as I get to a state of grace.

All these songs come straight from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s heart, from her very DNA. Listening to this is like a sermon. It is almost spiritual in its effect.




Come Darkness Come Light (2008)


Once In Royal David's City/Hot Buttered Rum/Still Still Still/On A Quiet Christmas Morn/Come Darkness Come Light/Christmas Time In The City/Candlelight Carol/The Longest Night Of The Year/Thanksgiving Song/Bells Are Ringing/Christmas Carol/Children, Go Where I Send Thee       

This is quite simply my favourite Christmas album. I am a Mary Chapin Carpenter fan so it goes without saying that I am going to enjoy this, but it really is exceptionally appealing. If you are looking for traditional carols or 1950s-style crooners then you won't get them here, apart from a superbly evocative rendition of Once In Royal David's City and a gentle, atmospheric Candlelight Carol. What you get are Mary's attempts to write Christmas songs/carols, not an easy thing to do at all. She manages it extremely impressively, I have to say. It has a great cover too.

Her version of Once In Royal David's City is always the first Christmas carol I play every year, around December 20th. It is just lovely. Mary's voice is sumptuous on it, so understated and moving. 

The same applies to the warming Hot Buttered Rum (what exactly is that, by the way?). Come Darkness Come Light is just so uplifting. It just makes your spirits raise listening to it, although, as with all MCC songs, there is a melancholy hiding just beneath the surface - a knowing, wise sadness and awareness of mortality. 

Christmas Time In The City is full of atmosphere, describing all the shops, the lights and so on, making it sound so magical, whether you are a big Christmas fan or not.

The Longest Night Of The Year is such a great song for a dark December night and on Christmas Carol, Mary's very own carol, she recalls getting The BeatlesWhite Album in 1968. MCC has such a skill for expressing nostalgic minutiae, making the mundane seem magical.

If you are a bit worn out every year by traditional Christmas musical fare and "party" songs and want to indulge in some genuinely sensitive, alternative Christmas songs, then you may enjoy this. You have to have an open mind, though and leave Mariah Carey, Slade, Bing Crosby and Wham! out in the snow for just a little while as you immerse yourself in this.


The Age Of Miracles (2010)


We Traveled So Far/Zephyr/I Put My Ring Back On/Holding Up The Sky/4 June 1989/I Was A Bird/Mrs. Hemingway/I Have A Need For Solitude/What You Look For/Iceland/The Age Of Miracles/The Way I Feel         

I have written extensively about Mary Chapin Carpenter in my various reviews of her albums, so at the risk of repeating myself I will briefly say that I admire her work immensely. I consider her to be a singer-songwriter of the highest quality, one of the very best. She is wise, clever, sensitive, expressive, emotive and one thing I really like about her is she grows old with me, the two of us having been born in the same year, 1958. The feelings and emotions she expresses in each album are “age appropriate”.

This album is a little less “new country rock” than parts of The Calling were. There are fewer riffs and more acoustic rhythms, but the drums are still solid, the bass resonant and the piano melodious, as always.
                               
We Traveled So Far and Zephyr are both mid-pace, acoustic but bassy ballads with Mary on reflective form, lyrically, and her confident, steady, mature voice always in control. Both are evocative, melodious songs. 

I Put My Ring Back On is a short, vibrant riffy and upbeat number that harks back to the sort of material she did a lot of in the mid-nineties. 

Holding Up The Sky is a gentle, solemn ballad featuring some quality, melodic guitar and another thoughtful vocal. The whole album’s approach is one of subtlety and sensitivity, of maturity and understanding.

4 June 1989 is an evocative song about the Tianenmen Square protests in China sung from the point of view of a young soldier charged with clearing the protesters. 

I Was A Bird is another gentle melody as indeed is the beautiful, haunting Mrs Hemingway, a lovely narrative tale about the author’s wife. It is most atmospheric with its lyrics about sailors in bars and living in Parisian garrets.


I Have A Need For Solitude is a rumbling slow burner, with more thoughtful lyrics plus some great background guitar, and What You Look For is another throwback to the country rock sound of the mid-nineties. These musical pieces of nostalgia are pretty rare, though, and this album will not resonate much with the fans from the Down At The Twist And Shout days. This is a mature album by a mature artist. This is perfectly reflected in the enigmatic, tender Iceland.

The Age Of Miracles has a committed-sounding MCC singing hopefully and knowingly over one of those classic MCC slow guitar and piano-driven tunes. The Way I Feel is a rockier, vibrant number upon which to end what is quite a low-key, reflective album.


Ashes And Roses (2012)


Transcendental Reunion/What To Keep And What To Throw Away/The Swords We Carried/Another Home/Chasing What's Already Gone/Learning The World/I Tried Going West/Don't Need Much To Be Happy/Soul Companion/Old Love/New Year's Day/Fading Away/Jericho    

This is probably the most sensitive, personal and possibly self-analytical album from the genuine songwriting talent that is the wonderful Mary Chapin Carpenter. It is such a moving piece of work, though, that I find I can only listen to it if I feel emotionally indulgent.
                                
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, musically, 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.

Songs From The Movie (2014)


On And On It Goes/I Am A Town/Between Here And Gone/Ideas Are Like Stars/The Dreaming Road/Only A Dream/Come On Come On/Mrs. Hemingway/When Time Stands Still/Goodnight America  
      
This is an adventurous album from Mary Chapin Carpenter. Using a large orchestra and cinema soundtrack arranger Vince Mendoza, she performs some of her songs, which are given an often sweeping cinematic backing. Her voice is a quiet one, it is certainly not one that dominates, so thankfully the music is rarely slowed to overpower her. The idea is that it enhances the songs, making them seem as if they were intended for cinematic use. For me, I'm not sure if it works. It is a different project to 2018's re-singing of some of her songs many years later, this is a deliberate attempt to enhance the songs with some cinematic music. I love the songs and will always love them, but this just doesn't quite do it for me, which is highly unusual, because I would normally still love it if I heard Mary Chapin Carpenter gargling mouthwash.
                 
It certainly suits the beautiful Between Here and Gone and Ideas Are Like Stars where the backing just sounds dramatic and beautiful. 

The Dreaming Road is also given a real cinematic gravitas but, unfortunately, the lovely I Am A Town has all is quiet soul and cadence ripped out of it by a deafening, crashing melodramatic backing. Personally I feel the appeal of Mary Chapin Carpenter's songs lie in their essential quietness, particularly those she has selected on here. Their sensitive tenderness and MCC's often sensual, wise, whispered voice just doesn't need those massive sweeping strings, as if someone is riding over the top of a ridge or a hero is passionately kissing his girl, or we are seeing an aerial shot of the Grand Canyon. I feel her songs are best served by single strings, or a tinkling piano, a gentle moving violin. Their previously understated backing was their strength.

The first movements of the beautiful Only A Dream sees them get it just right and the booming orchestral swell that greets the "twirl me around" line is one of the times that it justifies it. I think this one works. I still prefer the original, though, as I do on all of them. 

Come On Come On has a fetching percussion sound, but again I feel the big cinematic production takes away the sparse beauty that gave the song its appeal in the first place.

Mrs. Hemingway works perfectly, however, because the song is so filmic and evocative in its imagery and the backing on here is considerably subtler. This is one of my favourite cuts on the album. 

Goodnight America is just a beautiful song, whatever the arrangement and here, again the orchestration does it proud. As I said, I prefer the originals, and while I admire the experiment, and enjoyed some of them, I prefer my MCC at home, not at the movies.

The Things That We Are Made Of (2016)


Something Tamed Something Wild/The Middle Ages/What Does It Mean To Travel/Livingstone/Map Of My Heart/Oh Rosetta/Deep Deep Down Heart/Hand On My Back/The Blue Distance/Note On A Windshield/The Things That We Are Made Of/Between The Wars/88 Constellations  

In 2014, Mary Chapin Carpenter released some of her old songs re-recorded with a movie soundtrack-style orchestra. For me, it didn't really work and I was pleased to see her go back to what she does best on this album, performing her knowing, aware songs over a backing dominated by her acoustic guitar but also by jangly electric guitars and muscular rock drums. The overall atmosphere is a dignified, slow-paced, considered one, however. She is in her sixties now and, as she always does, she gives us the benefit of her life experience on a collection of atmospheric and lyrically beautiful songs. She never lets me down, even after all these years.
                                 
Something Tamed Something Wild is a pleasantly sensitive but also quite upbeat song, with strummed acoustic guitar and a rock drum backbeat. Mary's voice is, as always, gentle, wise and quietly authoritative. 

The Middle Ages has Mary looking back on her life, now she has reached middle age. It is a beautiful, mid-pace acoustic number and Mary delivers it perfectly, once again so real, so knowledgeable. One lives out one's life in MCC songs. 

What Does It Mean To Travel is a solid, slow number that ruminates on airports and travelling. Mary likes air travel imagery. It has appeared in a few recent songs.

Livingstone has MCC's voice in typical evocative form, giving us a sad, thoughtful song. 

Map Of My Heart reminds me of a Bruce Springsteen song from Working On A DreamMy Lucky Day I think, or maybe something off MagicOh Rosetta is a laid-back, gentle number sung to blues guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe. It features an uplifting organ solo in the middle. It brings to mind Mary's Between Here And Gone song from the album of the same name. 

Deep Deep Down Heart has an affecting backing, but the sentiments are similar to those expressed on most of the album - philosophical, questioning, reflective, nostalgic yet still bravely optimistic. 

Hand On My Back is the album's most sombre number, but again its words are inspiringly true. The Blue Distance ploughs the same moving furrow, with Mary again sounding wearily observational yet, as she aways does, coming across as courageously positive within all that almost intrinsic sadness.

Note On A Windshield is a sad song about Mary leaving her number on a potential romantic partner's windshield, but it gets washed away in the rain. The note gets used as a metaphor for their "ships in the night" relationship. Archetypal MCC. 

The Things That We Are Made Of returns to the stark melody of Hand On My Back and The Blue Distance

The final two tracks, Between The Wars and the valedictory 88 Constellations, sincere and beautiful as they are, are probably a couple of these type of tracks too many for me. This has been a lovely album, but after an hour of it, it is time to get up, get some fresh air, take stock and maybe listen to something else. That is no way a criticism, just a reaction. I'd still choose Mary Chapin Carpenter as my ideal dinner party guest.

Sometimes Just The Sky (2018)


Heroes And Heroines/What Does It Mean To Travel/I Have A Need For Solitude/One Small Heart/The Moon And St. Christopher/Superman/Naked To The Eye/Rhythm Of The Blues/This Is Love/Jericho/The Calling/This Shirt/Sometimes Just The Sky

Mary Chapin Carpenter has decided, on this album, to revisit some of her old songs, as she turns sixty. And why not? I had a bit of trepidation about the project, however, but I needn’t have worried. Mary never lets me down.

One Small Heart now has a great swirling organ sound and crashing guitars that enhances it considerably from its starker original. 

Heroes And Heroines, originally from her debut album all those year ago, now has a marvellous big, pounding drum sound. 

What Does It Mean To Travel and I Have A Need For Solitude are not significantly different - still quietly acoustic and tender. The same applies to Jericho. All are beautifully sung here, though.

The Moon And St. Christopher has another bigger, fuller drum sound, more haunting orchestration and Mary’s voice even more mournful and evocative. Simply beautiful. I have always really loved this song so much. Thankfully, I still love this version. It would have been a shame if it had spoilt it.

Superman is a lovely, atmospheric slow new new song, with a rich, deep drum in the background and an ethereal, whispered vocal. The other new track, Sometimes Just The Sky, is a quiet, thoughtful ballad, very typical of her later work. 

The slightly more lively Naked To The Eye is given a folky, country violin makeover and his a real Springsteen-esque feel to its chorus.

Rhythm Of The Blues is even slower than its original, with a deeper, more solid drum sound once more and Mary’s voice is now no longer that of the spokeswoman for all thirty-somethings that she was when she wrote the song. She is now a grand old lady, full of wisdom and comfort. But she’s still our grand old lady.

This Is Love now has a shuffling, percussive slowed-down beat, with a fetching, emotive violin and Mary’s voice is gruffer, but more world-weary, less vibrant or triumphant than the original. This is a voice of sixty years’ experience. Just lovely - it brings tears to my eyes. 

The Calling is powerful, strident and confident - full of melodic violin, sharp guitar and pumping drums. Mary’s voice is just gorgeous. It always has been, and nothing has changed, save an octave or so deeper, actually making her sound more profound.

This Shirt is another of my all-time favourites. Again, it is given a fuller, firmer backing, augmented by a beautiful folky violin. It still moves me tremendously. I know Mary’s old shirt as well as I know my own. She’s been with me for thirty years too.

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