Mary Chapin Carpenter – Sometimes Just the Sky review: A revealing voice

Sometimes Just the Sky
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Artist: Mary Chapin Carpenter
Genre: Singer / Songwriter
Label: Thirty Tigers

A voice changes over time. The environment plays its part. All that singing, talking, drinking, eating and other optional extras (eg smoking) has an impact on the vocal cords. But the physical is only part of the story. Voices also reflect character, personality, the lived experience, the world within and without. The American songstress has mapped her interiority with some success since the late 1980s – the cover shows her on her farm bought, she notes wryly, for a few songs – but this revisiting of one song each from her previous 12 studio albums, plus a reflective new song inspired by something Patti Smith said, speaks to an audit of sorts as she turns 60. The new song, illuminated by violin and Ethan Johns' sympathetic soft-rock production, is also the title track: "Used to be that all I needed / Was what I didn't possess / Yearning makes you who you end up as / More or less". So armed with this insight she tackles the likes of Jericho, This Shirt and Heroes and Heroines. The arrangements are different but also somehow warm and familiar. However, what makes this album more than new threads on old tyres is her voice, whispered, knowing, revealing a life lived.