It's hard to say why the sound personified by James Taylor, Jim Croce and Gordon Lightfoot, considered legitimate pop in the 1970s, should now be part of the country idiom. If a folk singer-songwriter of the 2000s finds her songs on country radio instead of in the pop Top 40, she probably doesn't mind as long as someone is paying attention to her work. So it is for Mary Chapin Carpenter, who has turned out some of the loveliest and most evocative country-folk music of the past dozen years.
A native of Princeton, New Jersey, Mary Chapin Carpenter learned to play the guitar as a child, thanks to her mother's encouragement. Her family moved to Washington, D.C. when she was 16, and then she got out among the folk crowd and began to make connections, as well as sell as many tickets as a folk artist can sell in a small club.
After she finished her college education at Brown University, Carpenter returned to Washington and began playing clubs there. She played some original material, and after meeting another guitarist, John Jennings, they began to do gigs together. A demo tape they made to sell at shows got Carpenter a Columbia Records contract in 1987.
The first fruit of her contract was her 1987 album, Hometown Girl. The album got decent airplay on college radio and open-minded country stations. Her 1989 album, State of the Heart, brought her success with two Top Ten singles, 'Never Had It So Good' and 'Quittin' Time.' 1990's Shooting Straight in the Dark spawned a #2 country single, 'Down at the Twist and Shout,' a 1991 Grammy winner for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.
Now that she had a solid core of fans and could sell tickets and albums on her name alone, Carpenter explored her country side more in 1992 on Come On Come On. Considered by critics to be one of the ten best albums of 1992, her 1992 Top Ten country hit 'I Feel Lucky' earned her the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female, and another single from the same album, 'Passionate Kisses,' won the same award in 1993. Her growing commercial strength showed when the third single from the album, 'He Thinks He'll Keep Her,' reached #1 on the country charts. 1994 led to a fourth straight Grammy for Best Vocal Performance, Female, with 'Shut Up and Kiss Me,' from the Grammy-winning Best Country Album of 1994, Stones in the Road.
Carpenter's songwriting has always scared the conservative country music establishment a bit, and it may seem strange thaat a country artist would write about an event in New York City. But Carpenter is a Jersey native, and she was in New York on September 11, 2001, close enough to the World Trade Center to hear the first tower collapse. She was able to write about the experience of being in Manhattan that day in 'Grand Central Station,' from Between Here and Gone (2004). As life takes her to new places, Mary Chapin Carpenter explores her experiences with lyrics that flow smoothly through her innovative melodies. If you have tickets to her show, you can explore life with her.
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