Mary Chapin Carpenter

If this woman's voice arouses some vague who-does-she-sound-like memories, try Jim Croce. Like Croce, the singer who died in a 1973 air crash, Carpenter, 29, performs a lot of story songs and does them in a warm, hearty, rhythmically ingratiating way that suggests real intimacy. Carpenter, a resident of Washington, D.C., shares some of Croce's ability to seem world-weary one moment, resiliency optimistic the next. And the tone of Carpenter's lyrics seems similar too: "A road is just a road that the one you love is leavin' on/ And midnight's another dawn, a hundred miles ago." Not to suggest that Carpenter is in any sense a clone—and she doesn't have a mustache either. She has an engaging romantic side that shows up on such songs as Waltz, as well as the ability to exploit such tunes as Tom Waits's Downtown Train. She writes most of her material, though (occasionally collaborating with producer/guitarist/backup singer John Jennings), and turns out such sprightly songs as A Lot Like Me, a tribute to the determination of entertainers who wait a long time to become overnight successes. A few of the tracks—that one included—seem to run on a little. Six of the album's 10 songs last 4½ minutes or longer. That's a minor drawback amid so many engaging melodies and thoughtful lyrics. As debut albums go, this belongs in the jump-for-joy category. (Columbia)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • David Hiltbrand.