M ary Chapin Carpenter  has enjoyed one of folk and country music's most critically acclaimed careers for over 20 years. Albums such as "Shooting Straight In The Dark" (1990) and "Stones In The Road" (1994) have earned her a reputation as one of the most honest singer-songwriters around.
For her new album, "Ashes And Roses,"  the singer just might have outdone herself -- at least when it comes to expressing her feelings. Since the release of her previous album (2010's "The Age Of Miracles"), she has endured her share of changes, and on "Ashes" the singer takes the listener on an emotional ride.
"It's the most personal record I've made in the sense that I speak about a lot of things that have happened to me the last five years -- among them, losing one of my parents, getting divorced, and having a serious illness," Carpenter told Billboard. "It's fairly likely that those were the things I was going to be writing about this time around."
She confesses that these songs could not have been written by her prior to the past few years. "Absolutely not. Unfortunately, those things are something you have to go through to address them in this way. I feel like I'm coming out from the other side, but I couldn't have written them before now."
One of the most touching moments is "What To Keep And What To Throw Away." She says it comes from an intensely personal place. "That was a moment-by-moment replay of having to clean out my former spouse's things from my house. I think anyone who has ever had to do that will testify that it's pretty harrowing to do that. It was a very difficult day. Writing this song and reliving every moment. The repeating line is 'These are your instructions,' and the reality is that there are no instruction manuals for getting through something like this. You just have to steel yourself, and be as strong as you possibly can," she says.
"Another Home" also is a revealing slice of Carpenter's life. "It's a song I wrote when I was thinking about where I wanted to place myself next. I wasn't sure I wanted to stay where I had been living. I felt there would be a place where I could find home again. To all of us, it's the thing that grounds us the most, and at the same time, I had recently lost my father. So, it speaks to that spiritual place where you feel that even thought someone has passed on, you will always be connected. There's comfort there. It was coinciding with a search on my part for a new place to live in my heart literally and spiritually. So, there's a lot going on in that song."
Carpenter smiles when we asked her about "Soul Companion," a collaboration with James Taylor. It's very refreshing - in this day and age where an artist can tend to become jaded - to hear her enthusiasm about the song. "He's so wonderful," she says, not hiding her awe of the singer. "It was such a thrill that he wanted to do this. He's such an icon, and this song feels like a gift. When the day comes when stuff like that don't thrill you, maybe, it's time to hang it up."
But, there are no plans for that right now. She's on the road, and glad to be there. "I've been out the last three summers, and just wrapped up an acoustic tour with my friend Shawn Colvin. So, we'll be out there as much as possible."
Though she is grateful for the positive reviews she has received over the years, she says that nobody pleases everyone all of the time. "No one is going to like everything you do," she admits. "That's just an impossible standard. I think the way I feel about what I do is that I'm trying to be authentic. I don't know what else to write about. So, if it doesn't connect with someone, or they don't like it, I can't be angry or disappointed. I'm just trying to be true to myself."
- The 615