Mary Chapin Carpenter is a songwriter of uncommon depth and sensitivity who came of age in the seventies as a folksinger in the clubs of Washington, D.C. She began enjoying significant commercial success in the eighties, when Columbia Records began promoting her as a “country” artist, but never allowed her work to be processed, categorized or compromised, and has always spoken directly from a kind mind and a full heart.
She is especially revered for her consideration of the changing lives of women, perhaps most famously for the brilliantly caustic “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” from 1992, and her name is spoken in the same breath as that of Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier and Shawn Colvin. Carpenter has focused on other social and political issues that are close to her heart, often speaking for those on the wrong end of social power structures. Consider “John Doe No. 24”, her stunning portrayal of a child born without sight or hearing in long-ago New Orleans. Abandoned to the orphanages and institutions of the south, no link to the outside but his memory of the scent of blooming crepe jasmine.
Mary’s work is literary and profound, often evoking the gothic south of William Faulkner or Willa Cather’s vast Midwest. She recalls the strength and majesty of young love, or the dusty regret of passion that wasn’t quite strong enough to last. Like so many of our favorite artists, we smile through tears at the memories she pulls to the surface.
Carpenter’s songs have been covered by the varied likes of Joan Baez, Tony Rice, Wynona Judd, Trisha Yearwood, and has recorded with folks like Colvin, Radney Foster, Dolly Parton and the Indigo Girls. Over her career she has won five Grammy Awards and a host of other formal accolades in the course of releasing fourteen albums of mostly original work.
Three things to know about Mary Chapin Carpenter: (1) she is distantly related to the late, great songwriter Harry Chapin, (2) in 2014, she released an orchestral album and performed it live at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and (3) she has coped with periodic bouts of depression with what she calls “the learning curve of gratitude”.