Known for crossing the borders of country and pop with love ballads and social-change anthems, Mary Chapin Carpenter now is a five-time Grammy Award winner and member of the Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame.
She reached the height of her fame in the early 1990s, when she won four consecutive Grammys for best female country vocal performance. The limelight didn't keep her from continuing her songwriting journey, though.
Carpenter has released 15 full-length albums, the latest of which debuted in March, featuring re-imaginations of old favorites.
At the age of 60, she's not stopping any time soon.
Carpenter was just climbing off a Colorado mountain gondola when she answered a phone call with The Post and Courier.
"It's a beautiful day up here," Carpenter says.
"Sometimes Just the Sky," Carpenter's most recent compilation, has one new original song — the title track — that is nostalgic, hopeful and enlightening. It's about that little slice of the present that washes away outside thoughts and worries. And sometimes getting there is as simple as looking up at the sky.
She drew inspiration for the song from an interview with Patti Smith, in which Smith shared life wisdom and guidance with a group of young people.
The song begins: "Noises in my head, and endless should-haves rain on me, like a storm, like a hurricane." Then, it concludes: "Sometimes, everything at once, but sometimes just the sky."
Carpenter says, "Sometimes, it's about the little details of life you don't necessarily see or notice even though they’re there all the time."
That's one lesson Carpenter has learned as she's gotten older: appreciate the simple moments. And here's a related tidbit of advice she offers: Never take anything for granted.
"The wisdom of growing older is a gift," Carpenter says. "Life is better now than it’s ever been for me. If anything, I'm embracing everything about this season of life."
She has learned to let go of fear and shake off concern about what the rest of the world thinks. That just comes with age, she says.
Her road hasn't been free from rocky passages. Carpenter initially didn't imagine she could make music her career. She was just doing it to pay rent in D.C. as she figured things out. Looking back, she says she might have been a veterinarian if she was better at science, or maybe a social justice advocate if she had pursued yet another passion of hers.
"I never thought I’d be playing music at all," Carpenter says with a laugh. But her mom's ukulele and a Spanish guitar meant more to her in elementary school than she could have expected. What began as a hobby, and then a passion, turned into her future.
"Any artistic pursuit, when you feel like it’s speaking to you, brings you a sense of fulfillment and happiness," Carpenter says. "Whether you're a writer, painter, poet or artist. And there are most certainly ways of doing those things without it being the end-all of your life. Just for me, it worked out somehow."
The importance of pursuing one's passion is not lost on Carpenter. It's something she does by combining her loves of music and justice. For example, she's a part of a five-city tour this fall with Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Steve Earle and Graham Nash, that will embark in an effort to end the Trump administration’s family separation policies. It's called the Lantern Tour.
The rest of her political statement, she makes through the words she writes and sings.
"Songs are spiritual things and they speak widely to many things," she says. "As I've grown old, songwriting has always been the thing I love the most. ... It all begins and ends with songwriting, and I hold it most dear."
And while Carpenter's world tour takes her through different landscapes and expanses, it's her kitchen table at home in the Blue Ridge Mountains that provides her with the best place to write.
"Of all the places we get to go to and travel, home calls the loudest," she says.