After a couple of listens, it’s clear that Ashes and Roses is a well titled release from Mary Chapin Carpenter. Songs of loss litter the album, unsurprisingly given the turbulent few years which lead up to it saw divorce, the loss of her father and serious illness. Nevertheless it’s also about growth, about new beginnings and finding strength in tragedy. Themes then that are destined to create a heartfelt album, which grows with each listen.
Though there’s a storytelling vibe, sadly there’s nothing akin to Halley Came To Jackson. There are also glimmers of hope, but again nothing so motivating as her classic Why Walk When You Can Fly. However in their place are particularly personal numbers, which resonant more deeply than anything she’s produced before and with this comes a real sense of poetry, the lyrics holding more prominence than the music. Whilst the duet with James Taylor on Soul Companion should bring depth to the album, it instead creates a state of contrast, highlighting the loneliness that the other tracks bring, despite their background vocals.
In turn, this creates a slow burner. Ashes and Roses is not an album which is instantly going to draw you in, instead it’s an album of integrity, stepping away from the bitter vibe that could have come and instead hinging on sorrow and grief. Whilst I Tried Going West is the track which instantly stands out, feeling weightier than the rest of the album, the likes of What To Keep and What To Throw Away and Fading Away shouldn’t be overlooked, effortlessly reflecting the sorrow of separation.
As she sings “I had to learn to be grateful/I had to learn how to see/mistakes that might have proved fatal/are gifts I now receive” it seems clear that the album is about a process, a journey that Mary takes the listener on. In turn this allows it to truly capture what it means to feel pain and though this is never going to be an instant hit, if you can stomach the misery, there are subtle glimmers of hope which find a way to keep drawing you back in.