MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER > Come On Come On

album-come-on-come-onMARY CHAPIN CARPENTER

Come On Come On

(COLUMBIA)

Rating: ★★★★★

Mary Chapin Carpenter had been every smart country fan’s favorite “oughta happen” for going on three records, and with the radio momentum of Shooting Straight in the Dark, anticipation was high for Come on Come On. Thankfully, the folk-steeped, intellectual take on life across this nation found the singer/songwriter with the burgundy, velvet voice conjuring a 12-pack that crushed expectations.

Opening with “The Hard Way,” a Rickenbacher-drenched post-feminist anthem about the price paid for the ground gained personally as much as sociologically, it was obvious this was a thoroughly modern take on what comprised country music. Whether it was the glib “I Feel Lucky,” with its wry demi-carnal nods to Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakam, or a plucky spin through Mark Knopfler’s “The Bug,” Carpenter never got overwhelmed by the breadth of her talent or the seriousness that often defined her lyrics.

But, mostly, this was a thinking woman’s navigational reality—stretched across exhilaration (Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses” was pure exuberance), grown-up desire (the oddly matched, but vocally engaging duet with hardcore honky tonk Joe Diffie’s “Not Too Much To Ask”) and resolve (the gleaming staccato don’t-look-down treatise “Walking Through Fire”). What Chapin did so elegantly was find the dignity in the most common, often unseen moments—and in that recognition, suddenly frustration and vulnerability became strength and community.

Still for all the tempo radio hits, including her first No. 1 “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” the true center of this record is the hushed moments. The whispered title track with its invitation to deeper intimacies; the golden childhood moments that mask and are marked by the tears of divorce on “Only A Dream,” which is all cascading piano notes and her dusky alto; or the Edgar Meyer, cello-caressed portrait of the blur beyond a windshield on a two-lane highway, “I Am a Town,” it is the tiniest details that conjure the deepest truths of lives people really live.

For Chapin, the silken arrangements, Beatles’ and Byrds’ jangle guitar flourishes and knowing ability to make the (upper) middle class common offered a signature of American evolution. Country wasn’t rural; it was anyone who could see themselves in the songs—and for NPR listeners, college students, women carpooling and holding jobs, people falling in love and apart, this was the music of their life. And what lives they were.