One of the few country artists, male or female, able to effectively blend attitude and sensitivity, Mary Chapin Carpenter has been in many ways replaced in the current country environment by belly-bar

One of the few country artists, male or female, able to effectively blend attitude and sensitivity, Mary Chapin Carpenter has been in many ways replaced in the current country environment by belly-baring cheerleaders. Her first album of new material in five years showcases an artist who transcends the boundaries of format. Carpenter had a hand in writing all these songs, and it's quite an impressive collection, melodic and sharply produced. The gently swaying midtempo "Whenever You're Ready" opens the set with class, and the keen observation of "Simple Life" melds wall-of-sound background vocals with crisp acoustic guitars. Carpenter creates complex emotional frameworks with songs like the atmospheric "Swept Away" and "Slave to the Beauty." While her introspection and understated approach bog things down at times, songs like "The Dreaming Road" and "King of Love" are finely crafted and often hauntingly beautiful. "This Is Me Leaving You" and "The Long Way Home" are on-target uptempos in a sea of subtlety. In total, Carpenter has put together a fine piece of work, taking risks that pay off time and again.—RW