Album/Single Reviews

Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Things That We Are Made Of



Minimal guitar, piano and violin backing is the canvas enabling Mary Chapin Carpenter to display her vocal and lyrical prowess on her 14th studio album ‘The Things That We Are Made Of’.

Produced by Dave Cobb, Nashville royalty following his collaborations with Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and A Thousand Horses, who has kept the arrangements simple and unobtrusive. This is her first release since 2014’s ‘Songs From A Musical’ but the first containing new compositions since ‘Ashes and Roses’ in 2012.

We have 13 songs that Carpenter describes as being about “life” and are “stripped down” as she believes that this is the way these songs should be presented. She describes the album better than anyone possibly could – “it’s just thoughtful ponderous music that makes you comfortable with life”.

She has previously stated that she prefers not to be categorised in any particular genre of music and this would not in any way be considered mainstream country. It’s an album to be savoured when serenity is required. Gentle paced and mellow is the order here and nothing is allowed to detract from Carpenters warm voice and evocative lyrics.

The opener ‘Something Tamed Something Wild’ is her way of setting the scene for the album. Staring at a shoebox of old letters and recalling faces of everyone she has loved and left. The gentle rhythm that accompanies this track is rarely repeated throughout the remainder of the album. There is an emphasis on an acoustic backing but Cobb is always capable of creating a rich atmosphere.

‘The Middle Ages’ is a song that describes the changes that occur in life and the adaptions one has to make. It checks in at just short of 4 minutes but it’s quality leaves you wanting more.

This collection is an ideal introduction for anyone new to Carpenter’s music. She is embarking upon an extensive UK tour this summer and the songs here will transfer well to a live setting.

‘What Does It Mean To Travel’ is essentially Carpenter and an acoustic guitar but has a certain wistful quality to it which is repeated extensively throughout the album.

‘Livingston’ is a road song but Carpenters poetry and Cobb’s influence turns it into a highlight. We are all on that highway to Livingston.

‘Map Of My Heart’ raises the pace somewhat. She visualises our hearts as maps that if read would show individual life journeys. It is jaunty, inspiring and is the one song on the album where Cobb has laid extensive backing.

The raw production returns for the remainder of the album but the quality doesn’t wane. The album ends with the title track that concludes that whatever life offers, we are what we are. We are the “things that we are made of”.

She has had an extensive career and in the early to mid-nineties dominated the Grammy awards winning 4 consecutive awards. The radio-friendly million-selling albums have almost certainly gone. We live in a different era now but her song writing prowess remains and this album is a significant return to centre stage.

She begins her UK tour in Bristol on 16th July and will be performing eleven dates here concluding in Cambridge on 31st July. She has a very healthy following and a reputation as a very fine live performer. Many dates have already sold out.

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