Mary Chapin Carpenter finds her folk-pop heart on The Dirt and the Stars | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Mary Chapin Carpenter finds her folk-pop heart on The Dirt and the Stars 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

click to enlarge Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Aaron Farrington

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s twangy, peppy hits bounced up the country charts in the 90s, but their cowboy boots always seemed like they pinched a bit. Twenty-some years later, Carpenter’s records have eased into a more comfortable idiom, scuffing up their coffeehouse folk with a bit of rock. On The Dirt and the Stars (Lambent Light), her voice has lost a lot of its snap and range, but its ragged edge fits well with her confessional, resolutely earnest approach. She includes the obligatory anti-Trump anthem (“American Stooge”), and the title track is an ill-advised AOR ballad that clocks in at a really unnecessary 7:43, complete with the usual guitar histrionics. The songs to show up for—which outnumber the missteps—are the frankly maudlin midtempo melodic strummers. On “It’s Okay to Be Sad” Carpenter sings, “Instead of breaking I’m hoping / The cracks beginning to spread / Is me breaking open,” conveying wounded uplift with a mixture of vulnerability and hope that seems engineered with almost surgical precision to put a tear in your eye and leave you verklempt. On “All Broken Hearts Break Differently” she finds the bright-eyed core of the sad pop song, and offers all her forlorn listeners the chance to be dreamily miserable alone together in one languid, undemanding groove. Sometimes veteran performers can lose their way as their mainstream audiences move on to new trends, but Carpenter seems to have found her true home out amidst the dirt, the schmaltz, and the stars.   v

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Give $35/month →  
  Give $10/month →  
  Give  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Noah Berlatsky

Popular Stories