Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Between Here and Gone

Sony Nashville

More at home alongside the likes of Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin than grouped with popcorn country singers such as Shania Twain, Mary Chapin Carpenter is a true artist in every sense of the word. Her albums are rich with inspired lyrics and themes, and her gentle, lilting melodies mark her as one of the premier singer-songwriters around today.

Between Here and Gone is Carpenter’s eighth studio opus, and it sees a return to the more mellow, organic and considered approach taken on Stones In the Road, her gem in a collection of priceless jewels. This album doesn’t quite reach the level of excellence achieved on that record, but it certainly comes close.

The excellent midtempo opener, “What Would You Say To Me,” hints at a greater emphasis on the fiddle than most of the material on 2001’s Time*Sex*Love*, but the way songs like the beautiful “Elysium” flourish with the use of an instrument generally overused in the genre is breathtaking. The occasional lap steel and Matt Rollings’s delicate piano help give Between Here and Gone texture and color, with Carpenter’s magical lyrics providing the depth and resonance.

“Luna’s Gone,” a lament to an absent friend, demonstrates this perfectly before the outstanding “My Heaven” showcases Carpenter’s deft use of language in a light-hearted, yet moving vision of the afterlife. But it’s the touching and poignant “Grand Central Station” that is the zenith of her lyrical prowess. Inspired by the tragic events of September 11th, the song depicts the thoughts of an ironworker who walks from Ground Zero to New York’s landmark train station in the hope that the souls of the departed will follow him there to make one final journey.

The driving country rock of “A Beautiful Racket” is perhaps the most uptempo track here. Although one or two more similarly paced songs would have been a welcome addition, the domination of more measured and personal material such as the autobiographical “Girls Like Me” and the geographically descriptive “Goodnight America” does not weigh the album down at all.

Instead, the assured, reflective and often spiritual tone of Carpenter’s latest batch of masterpieces compels you to listen over and over again, making Between Here and Gone a welcome triumph of substance over style for country music.

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