Entertainment Music

Friday 22 September 2017

Rising from the ashes of tragic heartbreak

John Meagher

John Meagher

mary chapin carpenter

Ashes and Roses

(Decca)

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The New Jersey folk stalwart has had a tough time of it of late. She's experienced a messy divorce, the death of a parent and a severe illness. Such has been her litany of misfortune that it's a wonder this album has seen the light of day at all.

But as is so often the case, horrendous personal problems have inspired some great music and Carpenter's 12th studio album offers beautifully observed, often achingly sad, songs that meditate on grief, the ravages of time and that sobering moment when we all have to face up to our mortality.

The instrumentation -- predominantly guitars and piano -- is sparse throughout and this economical approach highlights the pathos in her singing and the truth in her lyrics. What to Keep and What to Throw Away is a heartrending account of the death of marriage and the pain that Carpenter conveys is almost voyeuristic as she ponders the fate of shared possessions.

Learning the World is similarly powerful and in its despair, it's cut from the same cloth as Dylan's Blood on the Tracks or Beck's Sea Change as Carpenter notes: "Broken wide open, Cut to the bone, All that you used to know, Is no use at all."

Perhaps mindful that tear-stained albums can make for a difficult listen, there are a handful of more upbeat, hopeful songs, including Soul Companion which finds that confessional singer-songwriter veteran James Taylor lending a helping hand.

Yet, even in the happier moments, the anguish that permeates the album isn't far from the surface. Carpenter, with friend Shawn Colvin, plays the National Concert Hall, Dublin, on October 16.

KEY TRACKS Soul Companion; What to Keep and What to Throw Away

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