Mary Chapin Carpenter

Stones in the Road

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Stones in the Road was an eagerly awaited album from Mary Chapin Carpenter; the runaway success of Come On Come On established her as a bona star in the country and up-and-coming AAA radio formats. For this offering, she tipped her sound down to its basics and returned to the core of her music -- namely, her folkier singer/songwriter roots. Although the lyrics are among her best and the songs thoroughly memorable and beautifully literate, Carpenter cut back on the number of hooks in her melodies, creating a palette that required closer listening to appreciate. There were no immediately radio-friendly hits to be found here -- though radio did indeed pick up on it and the album did exceptionally well. Previously, she found a balance between the lyrical and musical aspects of her writing, walking a tightrope between words and hooks. Here, she concentrates on lyrics, giving the listener something that might require working a bit to appreciate -- but also something to hold on to. And craft never leaves Carpenter's songs; these are as finely wrought as anything she's ever done and better than most. There are uptempo tracks here, such as "House of Cards," the dreamy "A Keeper for Every Flame," the retro pop/rock sound of "Tender When I Want to Be" (a song Bruce Springsteen could have written and most likely deeply influenced), the single "Outside Looking In," and the barroom rocker "Shut Up and Kiss Me." But even these are lyrically more involved than those on earlier records. The moodier pieces here include the title track, the transcendent "John Doe No. 24," and the brilliant "The End of My Pirate Days." Carpenter and producer John Jennings hired a crack band that included drummer Kenny Aronoff, keyboardist Benmont Tench, guitarists Lee Roy Parnell and Steuart Smith, and backing vocalists Trisha Yearwood, Linda Williams, and Shawn Colvin. The sound of Stones in the Road is moody and very introspective at times, but it is never less than engaging and even pleasant. This is a worthy if startling entry in Mary Chapin Carpenter's catalog.

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