Watch Mary Chapin Carpenter's Intimate Paste Studio Performance

The Grammy-winner played three songs and chatted about her new retrospective album, "Sometimes Just the Sky."

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Watch Mary Chapin Carpenter's Intimate Paste Studio Performance

Mary Chapin Carpenter is marking 30 years of touring and recording with the release of Sometimes Just the Sky, a collection of songs that essentially becomes a chapter-by-chapter recounting of her unique career as a Grammy-winning country singer who was always much more than that. To compile the album, which came out March 30, Carpenter chose one song from each of her 12 studio albums, plus one new original, and recorded them in revealing live arrangements with producer Ethan Johns.

“Everything,” she told us during an exclusive performance at Paste Studio in New York, “is as you hear it.”

Carpenter has sold more than 14 million albums since the release of her debut, Hometown Girl, in 1987, including a hugely successful stretch in the 1990s that earned her four consecutive Grammys for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. She always resisted being pigeonholed as a country singer, and rather than settle into a career of sure-shot radio hitmaking, she went on to create albums rich with strains of rock, soul, folk and blues. For a retrospective album like Sometimes Just the Sky, it would have been easy to fall back on fan favorites like “Passionate Kisses” and “Tender When I Want to Be,” but the whole idea of the album seems to be that nothing worth living for is ever easy.

“It was challenging to pick one song from each existing record,” she said at Paste. “The first criteria was, I wouldn’t go near any song that I had already revisited in some fashion. I also stayed away from, for lack of a better word, radio songs, so-called hits. I didn’t really have a desire to excavate those and see what was there. It was a desire to dive deeper into the catalog and see what I would find.”

She emerged with pages from a long musical diary, beginning with Hometown Girl closer “Heroes and Heroines,” a song about a young romantic with a sense that the weary world has been waiting for someone like her.

From there, Sometimes Just the Sky eases its way through 12 songs that Carpenter felt were conducive to the live sessions overseen by Johns at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios outside Bath, England. Many evoke decades-old memories of who and where she was when she wrote them. All of them glow with the spirit of hard-won wisdom.

“It’s sort of your life passing before you in the sense that as I’m doing it…there was another part of my brain that was experiencing again, anew, memories of people in my life when I wrote X song, emotions that I was feeling, feeling my heart break over again after some romantic escapade,” she said. “There were more than a few times when I felt weepy, teary, when I came in contact with these songs again… There were some songs that for reasons of personal preference and emotional impact I didn’t really want to go near.”

Carpenter’s second song at Paste was the quiet “I Have a Need for Solitude,” from 2010’s The Age of Miracles. “Someone once remarked that this was the most autobiographical song that I had ever written,” she said, “and I’ve never had a reason to argue with that.”

Her third and final song was a lilting, spare rendition of the album’s title track and lone new original, a song that could stand as a canopy over Carpenter’s career in music—and in some ways all of our lives—spanning trepidation, hope, fear, fervor, passion, and all the wins and losses along the way. “Sometimes Just the Sky” was inspired by a phrase she heard Patti Smith utter in an interview years ago. “She was chatting with some young folks, and she was encouraging them and saying, ‘If there’s something in your life that you’re passionate about, that you love, you should pursue with everything you have and consider it your calling. But you should be prepared for it to be really hard and for life to be hard. You should be prepared to encounter grief and loss and failure and all of those things that can be so daunting. But on the other hand, life is beautiful and magical and it’s so worth it, and it can be as simple as having a perfect cup of tea and a talk with a friend, or sometimes just the sky.’ The phrase hit my right in the heart.”

Watch Mary Chapin Carpenter perform “Sometimes Just the Sky,” and find her forthcoming tour dates below.

Mary Chapin Carpenter Tour Dates
May 7: Gateshead, U.K. /// The Sage
May 8: Glasgow, U.K. /// Royal Concert Hall
May 9: Birmingham, U.K. /// Town Hall
May 11: Basingstoke, U.K. /// The Anvil
May 12: Worthing, U.K. /// Assembly Hall
May 14: Canterbury, U.K. /// Marlowe Theatre
May 15: London, U.K. /// Barbican
May 16: Bath, U.K. /// Bath Festival at The Forum
May 17: Norwich, U.K. /// Norfolk & Norwich Festival at Theatre Royal
June 15: Keene, NH /// Colonial Theatre
June 16: Lenox, MA /// Tanglewood Performing Arts Center*
June 17: Pittsburgh, PA /// Byham Theatre
June 18: Bloomington, IN /// Buskirk Chumley Theater
June 20: Wichita, KS /// Orpheum Theatre
June 21: Omaha, NE /// Holland Performing Arts Center
June 22: Denver, CO /// Denver Botanic Gardens
June 24: Aspen, CO /// Belly Up
June 26: Sun Valley, ID /// Sun Valley Resorts
July 12: Bayfield, WI /// Lake Superior Big Top Chautaqua
July 15: Ann Arbor, MI /// The Ark
July 16: Columbus, OH /// Davidson Theatre
July 20: Portland, ME /// State Theatre
July 21-22: Brownfield, ME /// Stone Mountain Arts Center
July 25: Ridgefield, CT /// Ridgefield Playhouse
August 1: Gettysburg, PA /// The Majestic Theatre
Aug. 2: Virginia Beach, VA /// The Sandler Center For The Performing Arts
Aug. 3: Durham, NC /// Carolina Theatre
Aug. 4: Atlanta, GA /// Botanical Garden
Aug. 7: Charleston, SC /// Charleston Music Hall
Aug. 9: Chattanooga, TN /// Walker Theater
Aug. 11: Vienna, VA /// Wolf Trap

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