As she celebrates her 30th anniversary as a recording artist — with the upcoming Sometimes Just The Sky, whose new version of 1987’s “Heroes And Heroines” is premiering below — Mary Chapin Carpenter feels nothing but gratitude for a long career.
“Aren’t we lucky that we’ve reached it?” Carpenter tells Billboard. “There’s a celebratory aspect to it. I wanted to take a moment to be mindful of how fortunate I am that I still make a living in music and I tour the world and I make records, and I can’t believe it. And in the last number of years being able to work with some of the most ridiculously talented people…I never imagined in a moment that this would happen.”
Sometimes Just The Sky, which comes out March 30 (pre-order here), finds Carpenter taking a look back, but in a unique way. Produced by Ethan Johns and recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Bath, England, the set features new — and in some cases radically redone (the full-band “Jericho” being the best case in point) — versions of songs from Carpenter’s previous albums along with one new composition, the title track. “I was mostly going on instinct,” Carpenter says about the song selection and the way the tracks are treated. “It’s important to me that I wasn’t trying to revisit the so-called hits. I hope in a way a lot of these songs are just utterly new to people.”
“Heroes And Heroines” was the closing track on her debut, Hometown Girl, and the new rendition features not only different flavors and textures created by the players but also a deeper meaning within the lyrics, which hold up 30 years later. The song was inspired during a visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Carpenter’s home town of Washington, D.C. “I was looking up into the rafters at the aircraft they have hanging there,” Carpenter recalls. “They have entire airplanes and rocket ships, and there was the Spirit of St. Louis hanging in the rafters, that was the inspiration, and then of course it became a meditation on where we are now.”
And in the polarized environment of the present day, Carpenter adds, it’s also a commentary wondering where those kinds of heroes and heroines have gone. “It resonates in a way now that is eerie to me,” she says. “It’s even more relevant.”
Carpenter will keep celebrating her 30th anniversary on the road this year, with dates in February and touring in earnest beginning during March. She’s also accumulating material for her next studio album of all-new songs, a follow-up to 2016’s The Things That We Are Made Of. “I’m writing as we speak for a new record, which is a wonderful feeling,” Carpenter says. “I honestly feel as energized as I ever have. Definitely there are days you feel like, ‘Who are you kidding? You don’t know how to write a song anymore!’ But, really, I’ve never felt so in-possession of whatever tools I bring to the task. I can’t wait ’til I write the next song. I feel like I just got started.”