Mary Chapin Carpenter

Songs From the Movie – 2014 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Mary Chapin Carpenter revisits 10 songs - not her greatest hits by any stretch - from her two-decade plus career with a twist. No guitars or anything else resembling her typical instrumentation (jazz drummer Peter Erskine contributes). Instead, Carpenter is often only backed by an orchestra on what is being billed as her debut orchestral record.

Carpenter recorded the disc at London's AIR Studios with a 63-piece orchestra and 15-voice choir, the latter being under the radar screen throughout. Noted producer Vince Mendoza (Sting, Diana Krall, Chris Botti, Elvis Costello, Bjork, Joni Mitchell) helmed the project with Carpenter and arranged and conducted.

The delivery veers decidedly towards the precious and pretty side, but sometimes a bit too much so. The problem is that one wishes for just a bit more energy that one is used to from Carpenter - at least when she goes on the upbeat side. Carpenter often plays the chanteuse, holding notes, sounding breathy, quiet introspective.

The orchestra sometimes fills the gaps, but the sound is most definitely laid back. The material rarely veers from that style. In fact, there is not a huge difference between what Carpenter recorded here and her original interpretations of the songs.

Given the closeness in style of the original and the reworked versions, what might have proven far more engaging was a reinvention by Carpenter of some of her better known songs.

Carpenter deserves credit for following her musical muse and doing something different at this point in her career. Just be aware that it's not going to make you shut up and dance.