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John Lamb, Published July 26 2012

Fargo-bound Mary Chapin Carpenter covers loss on latest album

FARGO – Mary Chapin Carpenter has had a rough couple of years, but she’s moving on in beautiful ways.

The singer/songwriter’s latest album, “Ashes and Roses,” reflects on the death of her father, her divorce and a pulmonary embolism that forced her to cancel a summer tour in 2007 and led to a period of depression.

While the subject matter may sound downcast, Chapin Carpenter’s assured attitude gives the songs resilience and a sense of hope.

She plays new and old material at the Fargo Theatre Tuesday night.

Chapin Carpenter says the album was in some ways hard to write, but part of a process.

“Not cathartic or necessary, but just kind of natural,” she says. “As an artist, that’s the excavation and exploration of your feelings and what you’re going through, and it seems natural to address them in your art.”

Many of the songs have a transitioning theme, suggesting the singer is moving forward. In the opener, “Transcendental Reunion,” air travel and terminals are a metaphor for going through life. “What to Keep and What to Throw Away” details the acts of sorting through household objects after a couple splits.

In “Chasing What’s Already Gone,” she dreams of her father, who reassures her that things will work out.

“And this morning I stared back at myself/

Feeling as empty as I’ve ever felt/

But I keep on going and I hope I’ve learned/

More of what’s right than what’s wrong.”

The empty feeling is something Chapin Carpenter experienced after a pulmonary embolism forced her to cancel a summer tour. Feeling she’d let people down it brought on a period of depression.

“Everybody gets depressed,” she says, describing the effect as feeling lost after getting out of the hospital.

She found herself so lost that even music didn’t offer a reprieve.

“When you’re depressed you really don’t feel like doing much of anything,” she says. “Playing music wasn’t necessarily the first thing I was going to do. It was after time went on and I felt back on my feet that I started to write again.”

She wrote an essay about her experience that was read for National Public Radio’s “This I Believe.”

She also put pen to paper as a bi-weekly arts and cultural events columnist for the Washington Post in the late 2000s.

“I have now far too much respect for people who have to produce columns even every two weeks. It was an enormous amount of work,” she says, explaining how she was writing an album at the time. “I couldn’t do both, so I had to give up the column.”

In her 25-year recording career, Chapin Carpenter has never been eager to label herself anything but a singer/songwriter, despite the fact her biggest success was in the early 1990s on country radio with hits like “Down at the Twist and Shout,” “I Feel Lucky,” “Passionate Kisses,” “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and the No. 1 hit, “Shut up and Kiss Me.”

“No one has required me to stand up and beat my chest and say, ‘I am a country singer,’ ” she says, adding that she is “very fortunate” and “eternally grateful” to be signed out of Nashville at a time labels were looking at artists outside of mainstream country.

“All of those genres have in common a hook and a memorable melody and great lyrics,” Chapin Carpenter says. “If I can approach that at any moment, I consider myself lucky.”

If you go

What: Mary Chapin Carpenter

When: Doors open at 7 p.m. Tuesday, opener Tift Merrit plays at 8 p.m.

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Tickets are $36.50 and $46.50. (866) 300-8300.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533