- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Shes no grizzled old bluesman, but Mary Chapin Carpenter can wallow in misery and make us like it with the best of them. On her eighth album, "Time…Sex… Love," the 43-year-old singer-songwriter obsesses about time passing too quickly and broods about love and loneliness.
Her musical backdrop is more Sting than Howlin Wolf, and her literate songs reflect her Brown University education — but theres no mistaking the blues.
"I feel like a big mistake/that you managed to not quite make," Miss Carpenter sings on "What Was It Like," one of several masochistic odes to love gone wrong on her first studio album in five years.
You took something that felt so good/and crushed it because you could/One summer night/What was it like?
Even though many of her songs veer toward depression, Miss Carpenter says their creation brings her joy.
"I get to wake up every morning and get to go, 'Oh, I think Ill write a song today, " she says. "Thats my job. I love what I do. I passionately love what I do. Im so lucky. Im so amazingly lucky. I just cant believe it."
Miss Carpenter is a rarity in Nashville these days: a commercially viable mainstream — yet deeply personal — singer-songwriter. Much of her competition puts out formulaic songs recorded with the producer, not the artist, in control.
Miss Carpenter isnt a Nashville conformist. She has no pretenses about her musical inclinations: folk and pop, not traditional country. She lives in Washington instead of "Music City" and usually records elsewhere.
"Time … Sex … Love" was recorded in London at Air Studios, which is owned by Beatles producer Sir George Martin.
The album title is an abridgment of a quotation from Miss Carpenters friend and musical partner, John Jennings. They produced "Time … Sex … Love" along with Blake Chancey of Sony Records in Nashville.
"The complete title is, 'Time is the great gift, sex is the great equalizer, love is the great mystery," Miss Carpenter says.
"Love is the great mystery," repeats the unmarried singer. "Boy howdy. Ill never figure it out. Why do I love some people? Why do some people hurt me?"
Elsewhere on the album, Miss Carpenter wishes she could be "Alone but Not Lonely" and brags that "This Is Me Leaving You," but its pretty easy to see through that little bit of bluster.
"Slave to the Beauty" addresses sex, pondering the wisdom of holding on to a relationship based on physical attraction despite other misgivings. "Late for Your Life" and "The Long Way Home" tackle Miss Carpenters fear that life is passing her by.
"Its a general malaise for me. I think since the time I turned 30, Ive felt that way," says Miss Carpenter, who was born in Princeton, N.J., and is the daughter of a Life magazine executive. She arrived in Nashville in the 1980s.
"Im worried that I havent done things, that life is passing me by," she says.
Theres always been a strong streak of melancholia running through her albums, but the hits came from such upbeat songs as "Down at the Twist & Shout" and "I Feel Lucky."
After several years of nonstop touring and recording to maintain her success, Miss Carpenter began slowing down after the tour to support her "A Place in the World" album in 1996.
"I was taking the time to have a life," she says. "That was probably the greatest revelation of the last five years for me. Just that its possible to do that."
Although Miss Carpenter kept touring during the summer months and released 1999s compilation album, "Party Doll and Other Favorites," she was "having fun with my friends, being with my family, my dogs."
"I think theres always that fear that youre going to tank your career by taking so long and people are going to forget about you," she says. "Its easy to succumb to stuff like that."
Miss Carpenter is back with her new album at a time when pop and country music are aimed at younger audiences.
"Maybe the subtitle should be, 'This is what one 43-year-old single woman is thinking about right now," she says.
"I listen to Britney Spears … because its whats out there … but I think its shortsighted and unfortunate if record companies forget that theres another audience besides the teen audience.
"Im not saying that I dont have anything to say to a 15-year-old, but Im not trying to appeal to someone who would be interested in Britney Spears."

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