Mary Chapin Carpenter gets personal on 'Ashes and Roses'

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Mary Chapin Carpenter's music, whether it's written or selected by her, is nothing if not personal.

Consider her recording of "Passionate Kisses." Carpenter insisted that it be released as a single from her 1992 album "Come On, Come On," even when music insiders balked.

The result: a Grammy Award for Best Country Song for songwriter Lucinda Williams and another for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female, for Carpenter. When Williams played a local concert earlier this week, she told of how Carpenter's support changed the trajectory of her career. Anyone who has ever attended a songwriters' circle in Nashville, Tenn., knows that such stories about Carpenter championing songs and songwriters are legendary. It's just who she is.

"No one is going to like everything you do," Carpenter recently told Billboard. "That's just an impossible standard. I think the way I feel about what I do is that I'm trying to be authentic. I don't know what else to write about. So, if it doesn't connect with someone, or they don't like it, I can't be angry or disappointed. I'm just trying to be true to myself."

Onstage
Mary Chapin Carpenter and Loudon Wainwright III
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Filene Center, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna
Info: $42 in-house, $25 lawn; 877-WOLFTRAP (965-3872); wolftrap.org

Carpenter spent much of her childhood in the District and started writing songs when she was in elementary school. After graduating from Brown University, she returned to the D.C. area and performed her original songs in area venues.

Don't be surprised if her latest album, "Ashes and Roses," nets her plenty more honors. The 13 songs on the album -- including "Soul Companion" featuring James Taylor -- were written as something of a catharsis after Carpenter went through a divorce, endured the death of her father and recovered from a catastrophic illness.

"All of those things happened to me in the last few years," she said. "So these are the songs that came about when I started to write. To try and push them away or write about something else wouldn't have been authentic. Songwriting is what I do. This is how I make sense of things, it's how I seek connection and make my way through the world."

The songs are vintage Carpenter, very personal and revolve around her playing. The arrangements on the album, which she said is the most acoustic she's made in many years, evolved organically in the studio.

Not that it was easy. Carpenter has special praise for the musicians who joined her on the songs and supported her through reliving such personal recollections in song.

"What allows me to do what I do is when people hear these songs and say, 'That's how I feel, too,' " she said. "It makes you realize how much we are all alike, how connected we are and how universal our experiences are."

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