December 2008

Mary Chapin Carpenter - Come Darkness, Come Light
Zoe Records 01143-1123-2
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

Back in the 1990s, when she was recording for Columbia Records, Mary Chapin Carpenter was a favorite around here. A lot of folks agreed -- she won five consecutive Grammies. Her most popular album, Come On Come On, successfully alternated upbeat, driving country songs with more introspective ballads. After Carpenter left Columbia, she became more interested in songs that had a message pertaining to current events, such as 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina. Understandably, then, she performed a number of concerts with Joan Baez and the Indigo Girls as The Four Voices during the middle and late '90s.

In 2007, Carpenter suffered a pulmonary embolism. Her voice now is not as bright as it was before. In the opening "Once in Royal David’s City" on this, her first holiday disc, she sounds almost basso. Things do lighten up a bit down the road as she sings a mix of new songs (by herself and others) sprinkled with a few familiar tunes. One of the most successful items is the traditional ‘Children, Go Where I Send Thee," which closes the 12-cut album. The best recent contributions are the somewhat caustic "Christmas Time in the City" by Carpenter and John Jennings, and the same composers’ stark "Bells Are Ringing."

Carpenter’s performances are impeccably musical, sincere, and deceptively simple. Taking each song individually, one might come up with higher ratings than the ones above, but collectively the overall spirit of this set is rather somber and dour, all slow and stately, with nothing really upbeat to keep it from bogging down. The recorded sound is warm and detailed enough, but lacking in presence.