Another Country 

Making it on a Williams legacy

Making it on a Williams legacy

In 1951, Hank Williams unleashed the lusty blue-collar come-on, “I’ve got a hot-rod Ford and a two-dollar bill/And I know a spot right over the hill/There’s soda pop and the dancin’s free/So if you wanna have fun come along with me.” Pursuing the same theme 45 years later, Mary Chapin Carpenter proposes, “What if we went to Italy/A suitcase of books and one bag apiece/For the summer.” My, how times have changed!

With her northeastern upbringing, Ivy League schooling, and comfortably cosmopolitan outlook, Carpenter is the least likely country star imaginable. But by every standard Music Row holds dear—chart prominence, album sales, and industry laurels—she is among the biggest. That she has won such a wide audience without constricting either her vision or vocabulary is a tribute to the intelligence of people on both sides of the footlights. And by exhibiting her sometimes demanding art under the country banner, Carpenter has done a great deal to dispel the oafish stereotypes that have afflicted the music from its beginning.

Carpenter is also thriving evidence that a country artist can make it on her own terms—and with the full cooperation of her record label. From the start, she has coproduced her albums and single-handedly written most of the songs on them. Hometown Girl (1987), her first project for Columbia Records, failed to chart even one single. Still, the label made a second try in 1989 with State of the Heart. It yielded two Top 10s—“Never Had It So Good” and “Quittin’ Time.” Carpenter was off and running.

Shooting Straight in the Dark (1990) produced her breakthrough hit, the irresistible “Down at the Twist and Shout.” In 1992, she won the Country Music Association’s top female vocalist award, then repeated that triumph the following year. Come On Come On (1992) charted an astounding seven singles, including “I Feel Lucky,” “Passionate Kisses,” and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”; it also became her first multi-platinum effort. Stones in the Road (1994), which was made up entirely of her own compositions, earned Carpenter her fourth Grammy.

On Oct. 22, Columbia will release Carpenter’s A Place in the World, a collection she also coproduced. Its 12 songs, all self-penned, range from the cheery, high-schoolish romp of “I Want to Be Your Girlfriend” to a grim enumeration of dreads in “I Can See It Now” to the fatigued resignation of “Naked to the Eye.” Carpenter is both photographic and philosophical in “Ideas Are Like Stars,” a series of images and conclusions inspired by a Washington, D.C., art exhibit of the same title. “What If We Went to Italy” is a perfect evocation of a too-perfect daydream. In “Hero in Your Own Hometown,” she reflects on the mixed outcomes of her own privileged generation. Even her relatively bouncy and upbeat “Keeping the Faith” and “Let Me Into Your Heart” are constructed around kernels of angst.

Carpenter’s thoughts are not invariably deeper than those of her fellow songwriters, nor are her observations consistently more provocative. But she does stand apart from them in her willingness to reveal a rich, if often fretful, interior life and a mind minutely aware of its own workings. She is country music’s best confessional poet.


♦ The Country Gentlemen and Bluegrass Unlimited editor and general manager Peter V. Kuykendall will be inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Honor Sept. 26 during the group’s annual awards show. The show, to be hosted by Ricky Skaggs, will be held at RiverPark Center in Owensboro, Ky. The 1996 award categories and nominees are:

Entertainer of the year: IIIrd Tyme Out, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Lonesome River Band, Del McCoury, Nashville Bluegrass Band.

Vocal group: IIIrd Tyme Out, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Lonesome River Band, Del McCoury Band, Nashville Bluegrass Band.

Instrumental group: Richard Greene & the Grass Is Greener, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Del McCoury Band, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Tony Rice Unit.

Male vocalist: Ronnie Bowman, Dudley Connell, Del McCoury, Russell Moore, Alan O’Bryant.

Female vocalist: Suzanne Cox, Alison Krauss, Laurie Lewis, Claire Lynch, Lynn Morris.

Song: “Another Place, Another Time,” written by Jerry Chesnut; “In the Gravel Yard,” Malcolm Pulley; “Mama’s Hands,” Hazel Dickens; “Tear My Stillhouse Down,” Gillian Welch; “Wing and a Prayer,” Kim Williams, Sam Hogin, Jim Olander.

Album: It’s a Long, Long Road, Blue Highway, Rebel Records; Mama’s Hands, Lynn Morris, Rounder Records; One Step Forward, Lonesome River Band, Sugar Hill Records; Ronnie & Rob McCoury, Ronnie & Rob McCoury, Rounder; Unleashed, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Sugar Hill.

Recorded event: Bluegrass ’95, Scott Vestal, Aubrey Haney, Adam Steffey, Wayne Benson, Barry Bales, Clay Jones; Fiddle and a Song, Byron Berline; “Rose of Old Kentucky,” Byron Berline with Vince Gill; 60 Years of Bluegrass With My Friends, Curly Seckler; That High Lonesome Sound, Old and in the Way.

Instrumental recording: An American Original—The ’94 Sessions, Chubby Wise; “Dancing in the Hog Trough,” Lynn Morris; Ronnie & Rob McCoury, Ronnie & Rob McCoury; “Southern Comfort,” Lonesome River Band; Wolves A’ Howlin’, Richard Greene & the Grass Is Greener.

Gospel recording: Glory Train, Southern Rail; “I Can Call Jesus,” Lynn Morris; My God Made It All, Bass Mountain Boys; Pathway to Heaven, the McPeak Brothers; There’s a Light Guiding Me, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.

Instrumental performers: Banjo: Ron Block, J.D. Crowe, Rob McCoury, Sammy Shelor, Scott Vestal; Dobro: Mike Auldridge, Jerry Douglas, Rob Ickes, Sally Van Meter, Gene Wooten; Bass: Mike Bub, Roy Huskey Jr., Gene Libbea, Missy Raines, Mark Schatz; Fiddle: Byron Berline, Jason Carter, Stuart Duncan, Alison Krauss, Chubby Wise; Guitar: David Grier, Del McCoury, Tony Rice, Larry Sparks, Doc Watson; Mandolin: Butch Baldassari, Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury, Bill Monroe, Adam Steffey.

Emerging artist: Blue Highway, Laurel Canyon Ramblers, Chris Jones & the Night Riders, Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz, The Sidemen.

♦ CMT will reveal the winners of its viewers’ poll of favorite music videos Aug. 31-Sept. 2. The “Labor Day Top 100” special will be hosted by comedians Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall. According to the network, the winning videos were determined by 205,578 viewer votes. The top 20 vote-getting videos are by Garth Brooks, Tracy Byrd, Jeff Carson, Linda Davis, Faith Hill, Little Texas, Lonestar, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, John Michael Montgomery, David Lee Murphy, George Strait, Travis Tritt, Shania Twain, and Bryan White.

♦ Robert Ellis Orrall has set up a joint venture with EMI Music to sign and develop songwriter/artists. Called REO Global Entertainment, the new company has already signed Rebecca Maples and James Nihan as staff writers. Orrall has recorded for RCA as a solo act and subsequently for Giant as part of the Orrall & Wright duo. As a producer, he recently completed the album Cracked Country Christmas, Vol. 1 for Giant with coproducer Dennis “Fly” Amero. He and Josh Leo are jointly producing new artist Michael Peteson for Warner Brothers.

♦ Comic and storyteller Jerry Clower will record Live From Dollywood, his 28th album for MCA Records, Oct. 5 and 6 at the Pigeon Forge amusement park.

♦ Add to the growing list of new Christmas albums the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble’s Gifts. It will be released Oct. 4 through Sony Music.

♦ A concert in tribute to Conway Twitty will be held Sept. 19 at the Grand Ole Opry House to raise money for the Conway Twitty Endowment Fund. Performing will be Loretta Lynn, Travis Tritt, Joe Diffie, Sam Moore, Diamond Rio, Tracy Lawrence, and others. Vicki Lawrence will host the show. The endowment helps fund programs of the EAR Foundation at Baptist Hospital. Tickets are available through TicketMaster.

♦ Kathy Mattea, Mindy McCready, Gary Chapman, Gary Morris, Hal Ketchum, John Berry, BlackHawk, Bryan White, Brad Johnson, and Matt King are among the artists scheduled to participate in the third annual Country in the Rockies ski weekend, Jan. 29-Feb. 2 in Crested Butte, Colo. Proceeds from the event go the Frances Williams Preston Research Laboratories at Vanderbilt University’s Cancer Center.

♦ Imprint Records has signed an agreement that calls for BMG Canada to license and release the new label’s products in Canada. The company already represents Imprint artist Charlie Major internationally.

♦ The Bum Steers’ self-titled debut album is now being distributed in 12 overseas markets, with Japan being the most recent addition.

♦ Singer Gayle Strickland has signed an exclusive booking agreement with Tessier-Marsh Talent. In addition to recording for Eagle Records, Strickland is also the headline artist at the Nashville Nightlife club near Opryland. Last year, Airplay International named Strickland its best new female country artist.


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