“I created some criteria for myself,” says Mary Chapin Carpenter, discussing her latest album, Sometimes Just the Sky. “The first thing was that I didn’t want to take a song I had already revisited in any other project. The other criteria was that I didn’t [want] to revisit songs that had been radio [hits]. I wanted to dive deeper into the catalog.”
The musically transcendent record, masterfully produced by Ethan Johns (Paul McCartney, Ryan Adams, Crowded House), commemorates Carpenter’s 30 years of recordings. “I couldn’t believe that that many years had passed,” she says. “I wanted to celebrate it with joy, to do something to mark the time.” She and Johns selected one song from every pre-existing album — 12 in all — and added one new song — “Sometimes Just the Sky,” a sumptuous, six-and-a-half-minute, slow-groove stunner that ranks among Carpenter’s finest compositions. “The idea was that you’re looking back, but you’re also looking forward, too,” she says.
Carpenter returns to Wolf Trap this Saturday for her 29th appearance at the venue. For the former D.C. area resident, who got her start playing at legendary venues like the long-defunct Food for Thought (“I’d be able to pay my group house rent by passing the hat”), Wolf Trap serves as an annual homecoming. “It’s just an amazing place,” she says. “It’s mind blowing, and humbling, and extraordinary, and magic. It doesn’t matter if it’s a beautiful night or if it’s spitting rain, the people who come out there are the best.”
Like so many other creative artists these days, Carpenter is “in despair” over the country’s current political state. “I feel fearful for our democracy, I feel fearful for our country,” she says. “But I try very, very hard to navigate this world with an open heart and believe that mutual respect and the ability to talk to one another is paramount. I’m not willing to turn away from that creed.”
When the topic turns to the #MeToo movement, Carpenter notes, “I think women have always spoken up, whether they were heard or not. But with technology, with hashtags, with Twitter, with all of the delivery systems we now have to amplify these voices — that’s been the game changer. We’ve been able to find community, find our tribe, find people who hear these voices. And it’s exponential — they become louder and louder and and become harder and harder to ignore…. It’s long overdue, and I’m glad it’s here.”
Mary Chapin Carpenter plays the Filene Center at Wolf Trap, 1645 Trap Rd., Vienna, Va., on Saturday, August 11, at 7:30 p.m. Rhiannon Giddens opens. Tickets are $28 to $65. Call 877-965-3872 or visit wolftrap.org.