Like Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash and few others, Mary Chapin Carpenter has continued to create music of substance long after the hit-making machine lost the wherewithal to appreciate her talents. Some have identified Carpenter's music having been too sedate since the turn of the century, lacking the appealing hooks and lively choruses of her commercial zenith. While not entirely inaccurate, Carpenter has never released an album without more positives than negatives. This streak continues here, perhaps her most accessible album since 1996's "A Place in the World."
There is no shortage of introspection amongst the dozen tracks. The words chosen to communicate the isolation and intensity following a diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism and depression in 2007 are among the sharpest of her career. "Last night I dreamed of icy cliffs, standing on the precipice, I leaned to see just where the edge would take me," she sings in the stark Iceland, before "a hand reached out and pulled me back to safety."
Carpenter's signature is her ability to mine history to create personal stories with universal application. She captures an intense interpretation of the Tiananmen Square massacre (4 June 1989), examines the experiences of the first Mrs. Hemingway, and perhaps even shares her own account of having had enough of sad days (The Way I Feel.)
Carpenter and her central band - Duke Levine, Glenn Worf, Russ Kunkel, and Matt Rollings - have fashioned an intriguing backdrop to the lyrics, supporting and embracing Carpenter's thoughts with a lush, nourishing nest of sound. Elsewhere, the passionate exuberance of I Put My Ring Back On would not have been out of place on "Come On, Come On."
Carpenter sings on the opening track, "Life astounds us in an instant." So does "The Age of Miracles."