Multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM award winner Mary Chapin Carpenter emerges in 2007 with “The Calling”. The title is titillating but does not give any false impressions about the magnitude of the material inside. In a seemingly more comfortable place, there is no time for grieving here, a bittersweet staple of Carpenter’s work. Here, Carpenter is at the summit of her creative journey and is celebrating the view of the future with only limited glances to the past, only on an “as needed” basis. (“The past is gone, good luck, so long” and “I gave up hoping long ago I could fix the past”). More than a lessons-for-living, reasons-for-loving quest, the CD asks something new of the listener. Sometimes subtle and sometimes overt, you are invited to consider peace of mind….yours and your fellow man’s. But don’t worry, it does not just pose the questions, which many artists do, leaving one walking away scratching their heads. Instead, in true Carpenter fashion, you are challenged to consider the reasons in and the way out, resulting in a very satisfying journey from tracks 1 -13. The CD opens with the title track, exploring the plight of every dreamer; fear. The concept that, intrinsically, we all know what we are here for is both promising and paralyzing. The line between the 2 is brilliantly walked here. After I heard this first song, I thought I had probably heard the best song on the CD, perfect melody and message. I had no idea what was to come.
The subtlety of the way Carpenter separates the word “alright” in “We’re All Right” is not lost on this writer. A song that, on the surface, is about the freedom that can come from feeling lost, forgiving and letting go, takes on a whole new meaning with that simple adjustment, which makes the song read more as a societal commentary on division of belief systems and the ridiculousness of that expended energy (war?).
After busting open with the first 2 tracks, the CD takes a notch or 2 back on track #3 where you are now in the landscape of a Carpenter painting, rivaling any of the great masters. There are quite a collection of these now in her body of work, where you can sit and close your eyes and actually see the colors and images as clearly as if you were standing in the center of it. This song is the greatest compliment to dusk, and you may never see “Twilight” the same way again. Carpenter takes her voice to new places here, experimenting with range and inflection. This creative risk and level of comfort with self is consistent with the message of the CD.
“It Must Have Happened” is a testimonial to hardship. The song does what one single line suggests, to encourage laughter “at catastrophe”. Here, the message is that when all is said and done, the good things that you now enjoy in your life are often the result of the very worst of times. This sentiment is a common one because of it’s ubiquitous relevance, but Carpenter is quite skilled at finding creative ways to deliver (see “Houston”). Fasten your seatbelt and get ready to face yourself in “On And On It Goes”, my favorite track. It hits frighteningly close to home. CAUTION: the melody pulls you in and you may not be up for that kind of personal reflection when you get there (“…like the time we’ve lost. It’s either running out or covering all our dreams in rust.”) If you are up to the challenge though, you will be forever changed by this song. And that is the greatest compliment an artist can get. Carpenter has a propensity to make you feel as though she writes with you in mind. It is both eerie and genius.
Beautifully timed, this is repeated in the next song, “Your Life Story” but the whimsy of the music offers a celebrative perspective, giving one permission for all the mistakes and blunders. This song has the greatest bridge of any I’ve heard. It’s joyfully addictive. You will feel so validated and comforted (“I think we’ll be just fine”) you will want to send Carpenter a thank you card and a check for the therapy.
In the past, Carpenter has used writing in the first person as a way of telling a story (“John Doe #24, “Grand Central Station”). She understands that writing this way has the greatest impact and she does it again in “Houston”. I won’t give away what the song is about here because no one should be deprived of the experience of having it click after hearing the first few lines. I will say this is not a song about politics. It is a song about humanity.
But “On With The Song” is clearly and refreshingly political. It pacts a punch for all of us who have felt voiceless to the ears of a man few still believe has our best interests at heart in the wake of a dysfunctional war. This song outlines the danger of one person’s disregard of the diplomatic process, the impact of abusing power and the affect it all has on the morale of a country neglected and orphaned by it’s parent. With a nod to the Dixie Chicks, Carpenter clearly puts herself on the same firing block, an admirable risk in light of the hostility the Dixie Chicks could not foresee.
Just a notch below, but still a message to the person as citizen, “Why Shouldn’t We” was the first song Carpenter wrote for the album and is motivational in it’s attempt to instill faith in a failed system (“celebrate your vote”), hope in a troubled time, and love for everyone regardless of class, creed, race, gender or sexual orientation, a message much needed right now.
To piggyback on the message of hope, Carpenter ends the CD with another painting. This one describes the promise of better times awaiting each time a new day begins. She does to dawn in “Bright Morning Star” what “Twilight” does to dusk. And there you have the bookends of the greatest day you will ever spend.
There isn’t an angle of the human experience that is not touched upon here and you will be hard pressed to find a CD that explores a musical range more comprehensively. With bodies of work like “Between Here And Gone” and “The Calling”, Mary Chapin Carpenter has established herself among the great storytellers of our time. Musically, her work will stand firmly in changing times and styles, outlasting a fickle industry. Treat yourself and hear “The Calling”. It’s more than just a CD. It’s a voyage you will want to take over and over again.