Preview: Mary Chapin Carpenter crafts an album born of personal loss


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The sad reality for singer-songwriters is that nothing fuels the creative juices like hardship.

In that regard, Mary Chapin Carpenter, who performs tonight at Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead, had a lot to draw from when working on her 12th studio album, "Ashes and Roses."

Coming on the heels of 2010's Grammy-nominated "The Age of Miracles," it's her most personal record, she's said, having endured over the past five years a pulmonary embolism, the loss of her father and the end of her marriage.

Mary Chapin Carpenter

With: Tift Merritt.

Where: Carnegie Music Hall Library of Homestead, Munhall.

When: 7:30 tonight.

Tickets: $35 and $45; 412-368-5225.

The emotional toll comes through on "What to Keep and What to Throw Away," in which she sifts through her former spouse's possessions; "Fading Away," which describes the way memories linger and fade, for better or worse, after a loss; and "Another Home," a ballad about needing to feel grounded again.

"Songwriting has always been a way for me to make sense of my world, and it was only natural that I would write about the feelings I had and the experiences I had gone through in the last few years," she says in an email exchange. "I have always written 'personal' songs, and this time around it was no different."

Now, the singer-songwriter who has won five Grammys, sold more than 13 million records and scored such hits as "Passionate Kisses" and "He Thinks He'll Keep Her," is out performing these mellow songs that pack an emotional wallop.

Is it tough to play them night after night, and conjure up those feelings?

"Yes, sometimes it is," she says. "The recording sessions were very tough, but I was surrounded by wonderful people who allowed me a lot of room to respond to what we were creating. Playing the songs on stage can be very emotional, but it's always then that I am reminded that every person in that audience is the same as me -- we all have experienced loss, grief, darkness and light. So there is comfort in the connections."

Not all the songs on "Ashes and Roses" have a melancholy glow. "Soul Companion" is a hopeful, finely crafted song about finding a soulmate with an assist from a musical soulmate, folk-rock icon James Taylor.

"I have always loved James and his music," she says. "My manager contacted him, and we sent him the song. He called me and told me that he loved it and wanted to do it. I was over the moon. Every time I hear it I have to pinch myself. He is my hero."

music

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576.


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