Mary Chapin Carpenter isn't the most unlikely country music star of all time. After all, there's a precedent for having success as a country artist and being born in New Jersey (as was Eddie Rabbitt), starting out as a politically-inclined, Washington D.C.-based folkie (like Emmylou Harris), or even hitting the books big time (Rhodes Scholar Kris Kristofferson, perhaps?). The straw-haired singer-songwriter with the husky, honeyed alto remains an anomaly in the crop of doe-eyed, slender-hipped Shanias and Faiths who currently dominate popular country music. But Chapin (as she's known to friends) seems destined for another hit with "Simple Life," an anthem for hurtling middle-age crazies that sets the tone of her eighth album. Known for her subtle lyric insights, Chapin struggles with the evolution into adulthood on "Late for Your Life," and describes the foibles of a career woman's unconscious living on "The Long Way Home." She's always straddled musical genres, and Time*Sex*Love boasts a clear pop streak, with the influence of the Beach Boys evident on the harmonies of "Maybe World" and the string arrangements on "What Was It Like" and "King of Love." Those songs have their sweetness balanced by the bite of producer/guitarist John Jennings, but a run-in with Sir George Martin during the album's London sessions might help explain the sitar on "In the Name of Love," which is more Lemon Pipers than George Harrison. The U.K. connection is more pleasantly evoked on the hidden track, "Going Home," which samples the robotic "mind the gap" warning broadcast on London's tube platforms -- driving home the point that Mary Chapin Carpenter has again bridged some musical gaps of her own.
(May 29, 2001)