Mary Chapin Carpenter has always written and recorded songs with either obvious or subtle messages. She is a keen observer of the human condition. But when she recorded an entire album of these songs, "Between Here and Gone" over two years ago, the songs were all very good. But there was something missing.
A big part of her appeal had always been a wry sense of humor and playfulness. That was reflected in some of her best-known work like "I Feel Lucky," "Shut Up and Kiss Me" and "Down at the Twist and Shout." On her new album, the pendulum has started to swing back, but just barely.
There are a few tunes here that can get the toe tapping and make use of ace session drummer Russ Kunkel, like "It Must Have Happened" and "Why Shouldn't We," 2 of the strongest songs on this 13-track offering. Her topical songs include, "On With the Song," which defends the Dixie Chicks and the right to speak out, and "Houston," about the refugees from the Hurricane Katrina.
It would be nice if Carpenter would once again find her joyful side, but until she does, we still have this album, which really spotlights all of her other strengths including that clear, riveting voice and the knowledge of how to best make use of it.