Record Review - 5 July 08 2004

Sympathies to all the grinning, dancing, flamingo-waving fans that populate Carpenter’s live shows. Better put those pink plastic things in storage for a while, because judging by this new album, Mary Chapin isn’t feeling very chipper these days. She’s got much weightier topics on her mind than boot scooting with Beausoleil down at the Twist and Shout.

Life, death, life after death, the existence of heaven, the futility of the daily grind, searching down endless highways ... phew, Mary, lighten up a little. She makes Joni Mitchell at her most confessional sound like Joan Jett on a bad day.

That’s not to say that these 12 songs aren’t well-crafted, beautifully conceived, literate musings played and written to perfection. They are, and Chapin’s deliciously husky voice drips from the speakers with an emotional and sonic clarity that sounds like she is in your head, or at least the room.

But at an hour long and with few variations in the intimate, confessional folk-ballad formula, even the most reflective fan is probably hoping for a smart, sassy hum-along Carpenter ditty like “I Feel Lucky” or “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” if only to change the mood.

No luck there, yet these somber, occasionally hopeful songs — best heard through headphones, by the way, to appreciate the musical and vocal nuances — keep the listener involved in a psychological therapy session only Tony Soprano wouldn’t love. Just don’t expect them on the jukebox at the Ba Da Bing Club.

Mary Chapin Carpenter plays Chastain Park Amphitheatre Sat., July 10, 7:30 p.m. $24.40-$57.57.