Throughout the dozen studio albums she has released in more than 30 years as a recording artist, Mary Chapin Carpenter has found inspiration in the works of others, as well as her calling upon her own memories and experiences to craft songs that have not only painted lovely – and lively – word pictures, but have also stirred imaginations and, from time to time, become bona fide country hits.
Carpenter's latest project, Sometimes Just the Sky, out March 30th, is less about hits and more about sense, perspective and, above all, presenting still-compelling observations and re-imagining them with tender vitality. This earnest appraisal reintroduces one track each from the Grammy winner's 12 studio albums since 1987's Hometown Girl, supplementing that dozen with the new title track, which was inspired by a speech given by singer and poet Patti Smith.
"Certain phrases jump out at you and recently that happened exactly," Carpenter tells Rolling Stone Country. "Patti Smith was speaking about life and about finding your way. The essence of what she was saying was that life is hard and it can break your heart, it can tear you apart and disappoint you, but there are so many beautiful things about it, too. She lists a few things, like sometimes it's about meeting an old friend… and then she says, 'Sometimes it's just the sky.' That was in my head and I wrote [it]. Sometimes a phrase just jumps out and all of a sudden it means everything to me."
Sometimes, rather than a phrase, it's something more tactile. Among the brilliant tunes on her 1989 breakthrough LP, State of the Heart, which produced four consecutive Top 20 singles, Carpenter included "This Shirt." Here, she sets it down in soulful, percussive bedrock, punctuated with gorgeous fiddle work. The decades between the original recording and this one have only deepened the tune's lyrical resonance, adding age and wisdom to what is already the epitome of a sense-memory experience.
"'This Shirt' is a song about how the most ordinary, quotidian object can hold meaning, memory and emotion in the recitation of its simple details," says Carpenter, who recorded the new LP entirely live at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios outside Bath, England. Produced by Ethan Johns, best known for his work with Paul McCartney, Ryan Adams and Ray LaMontagne, the album features Carpenter's longtime collaborator Duke Levine on guitar, supplemented by a band handpicked by Johns. The new record follows 2016's memorable The Things That We Are Made Of. Carpenter will embark on a North American tour later this year.
Sometimes Just the Sky will be released March 30th on Lambent Light Records via Thirty Tigers. It is currently available for pre-order.
Sometimes Just the Sky track listing:
1. "Heroes and Heroines"
2. "What Does It Mean to Travel"
3. "I Have a Need for Solitude"
4. "One Small Heart"
5. "The Moon and
7. "Naked to the Eye"
8. "Rhythm of the Blues"
9. "This Is Love"
11. "The Calling"
12. "This Shirt"
13. "Sometimes Just the Sky"