During her almost 20-year career, five-time Grammy winner Mary Chapin Carpenter has attracted a whole new legion of female fans to country music. Now, after a three-year silence, the singer/songwriter is back with her 10th album, which she wrote completely by herself. An introspective album that uses vividly expansive stories to explore weighty themes such as love and mortality, the album is hushed and finely nuanced and reveals the sophistication Carpenter has developed as a songwriter and performer over the years. The muted mood does mean that the album lacks the joyous brashness and sensuality of her past hits. There are moments of ardent beauty, though, like album opener "What Would You Say to Me," which gracefully weaves mournful violin, tart guitar, and elegant piano under Carter's dulcet voice, and the understated, gliding melody of the mournful ballad, "Goodnight America." The tone cuts loose a bit on the mid-tempo rocker, "Beautiful Racket," which finds Carpenter's voice getting smoky over a bright beat, while "River" unwinds a sinuous guitar melody over warmly resonant piano. Carpenter delivers more gently ruminating songs that dust country blues with pop prettiness. Carpenter headlines the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly on May 23.
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