- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2001

Mary Chapin Carpenter possesses the patience of someone who knows her fans will wait for her muse to catch up to her.
Miss Carpenter, the Grammy-winning songstress who began her career playing in coffee shops around the District, says she doesn't regret that it took nearly five years before she could record her new album, "Time* Sex*Love."
Her sturdy fan base likely doesn't mind, either. The singer-songwriter is slated to perform back-to-back shows tonight and tomorrow at Wolf Trap's Filene Center in Vienna. The Irish quintet Lunasa will open for both performances.
Usually, Miss Carpenter releases a new album every two or three years, a pattern she established following her 1987 debut, "Honkytonk Girl."
When she first began crafting songs for her latest album, something wasn't quite right.
"I was writing songs that I wasn't excited about," says Miss Carpenter by phone during a stop along her current tour.
Eventually, she gathered enough material she felt strongly about and entered the studio with longtime collaborator John Jennings, a Potomac guitarist. The resulting 14 tracks ruminate on relationships, the passage of time and the priorities we choose for ourselves in our later years. It's not your typical pop fare, but like Bob Dylan and other seasoned songwriters, Miss Carpenter isn't afraid of injecting her reflections on the aging process into her songs.
Fan reaction to the new material has echoed her faith in being patient with her mercurial songwriting process.
"At the end of every concert, it feels wonderful," she says of the response. When the first few notes of a new song ring out, they are greeted by "a smattering of applause."
"They know the music," she says with some satisfaction.
She hopes time's passage has left her a more accomplished songwriter with new insights to share.
"I'm not afraid to address certain topics," she says of the perks of being a mature singer. A compelling songwriter is adept at "saying what you want with economy, but with enough detail so that the story is there."
Miss Carpenter, known as much for her eloquent phrasing as her relentless touring, scored her first gold album with her second release, 1989's "State of the Heart."
Since then, she has blended country, folk and rock elements with critically acclaimed results. She earned the first of five Grammy awards in 1990 for the single "Down at the Twist and Shout."
Her music remains as elusive to define as that of Lyle Lovett and other Wolf Trap regulars, but she retains a solid fan base accustomed to her confessional lyrics and sweet alto voice.
Just don't expect to hear that soulful sound on the radio any time soon.
"I throw my hands up" when it comes to the radio industry, she says. It's a small measure of comfort that she isn't alone in her frustration.
"A lot of artists don't fit into a category," she says. But radio programmers, obsessed with marketing and youth-oriented songs, ignore the crowds she and her oft-overlooked peers attract.
"People should be given more credit than that," she says. Healthy record and concert ticket sales for unconventional acts "speak to a disconnect."
The Brown University graduate, who spent a good deal of her formative years in the D.C. area, began playing cover songs around town in the mid-1980s. She introduced original material whenever she could.
"There wasn't a lot of education going on," she says of the period, laughing, but her blossoming skills eventually let her settle on music full time. She seems in such a solid place today that she politely refuses to recall some of her more frustrating gigs as a young musician.
Perhaps it doesn't matter, since today she can pack 'em in for two nights at Wolf Trap.
"Wolf Trap is a very special venue," says Miss Carpenter, who expanded her creative reach in 1996 with the children's book, "Dreamland." "Having played all across the country puts you in the position to compare. It's in a class by itself.
"We've always felt just lucky beyond belief with the audiences we've gotten there," she says.
That kind of luck eludes many in the music industry, even those who today may enjoy radio saturation coverage but face an uncertain tomorrow.
"I look at it all it seems more and more careers last 2.5 seconds," she says. "I'm so grateful for the kind of career I've been able to grow."

WHAT: Mary Chapin Carpenter concert
WHERE: Wolf Trap's Filene Center, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna
WHEN: 8 tonight and tomorrow night
TICKETS: $18 to $34
PHONE: 703/218-6500 or online at www.wolftrap.org


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