Songs from the Movie

Mary Chapin Carpenter

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Songs from the Movie Review

by Thom Jurek

Though singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter was initially considered a country performer, she was never easily boxed in; her interests and songs ran from folk to rock to pop, and she never reined them in. She was part of an anti-establishment group of writers and performers who came from the East Coast acoustic music scene and hit Nashville in the late 1980s. Most are footnotes now, but Carpenter has remained vital, productive, and has a track record of consistency most artists would -- or at least should -- envy. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012. Songs from the Movie finds her revisiting her own catalog with Grammy-winning arranger Vince Mendoza, a 63-piece orchestra, a 15-voice choir, and some prime session players. She recorded the set at AIR studios in London. Carpenter executes these songs with the requisite taste she has exhibited throughout her career. Her singing voice has never been particularly powerful, but her crystalline contralto has always gotten her lyrics across convincingly and honestly. Mendoza's charts treat that voice with respect and dignity. They are seldom overtly ornate and they never overpower her singing. Carpenter is more restrained than usual here; she doesn't attempt to become an extension of the orchestral and choral grandeur, but instead offers a subtle, deliberately understated delivery that allows lyrics and music to become part and parcel of an unfolding story. As a result, standout tracks such as "I Am a Town," "The Dreaming Road," "Come On Come On," "Mrs. Hemingway," and closer "Goodnight America," add poignant reverie to the original versions. As a whole, these songs highlight and accentuate the set's title; Songs from the Movie becomes an almost painterly soundtrack, a nearly visual exteriorization of the interior world, travels, and travails of Carpenter as songwriter and human being.

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