One thing is certain: Mary Chapin Carpenter has heard the sound of the new Nashville. She brings the electric guitars and she brings her Martin; she allows the mix to bring up those drums and basslines. She's no longer afraid of rock & roll as long as it blends with her brand of folkish country. After years of walking the outside, despite a hit record or two, seemingly afraid to really let it rip, she has arrived here, on The Calling. That's a good thing. The title track operner and "We're All Right" rock harder than anything she's ever cut. With the added volume of electric guitars her voice has more room and those killer hooks she writes don't disappear in the mix. Carpenter has a hell of a way of looking at life from all sides, from behind the closed doors, from the empty lanes and the darkening countryside. She has always had a special way of viewing fate and destiny from the perch of those lives that hold on with only a shred of hope but refuse to let go of it. In the face of all odds,she affirms the essential goodness of a moment. She does this better than most and is second to none in her picaresque narratives of embracing freedom--even when it's loneliness--as an alternative to despair. And while her music has never matched the tautness of her lyrics before, it does here. That doesn't mean the gentleness is all gone. On "Twilight," the acoustic guitars, vibraphone, cajon (by Russ Kunkel), and electrics blend gently but delivered with the kindness of an old friend imparting a story. The jangling Rickenbackers on "Your Life Story" make it a candidate for a single. The bottom line, as the album unfolds -- whether it's "On with the Song," (written for the Dixie Chicks during their season in hell and an actual anthem), the sweet electric ballad "Why Shouldn't We," or the whispering closer "Bright Morning Star" -- is that it never ceases not only to please, but to pull the listener deeper into Carpenter's wide-ranging poetic world. Time will tell, of course, but in The Calling, Carpenter may have her finest moment yet; it also feels like an artistic rebirth. These songs come from her marrow and the conviction she sings them with proves it. Carpenter and her co-producer Matt Rollings should be awfully proud of this one.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek