Between Here and Gone

On her eighth album - and first in three years - Mary Chapin delivers exactly what her fans have come to expect: warm, earth-mother wisdom wrapped in gentle, shimmering melodies.

But comfort can be confining, and Mary Chapin's impressive consistency may also be her greatest flaw. She has spent the last decade circling around the same themes of love, loss and lessons learned - exploring them all with effortless eloquence, but little evolution. Songs that would once have felt fresh and extraordinary now too often seem like simple formulas delivering easy answers.

To her credit, the accomplished songwriter seems aware of this, and Between Here and Gone offers hints of a more daring Mary Chapin - one who laces the mostly melancholy "Girls Like Me" with traces of bitterness. Likewise, the album-closing "Elysium" describes falling in love with husband Tim Smith, but also suggests deeper, darker regrets about putting her career first: Sometimes you get there in spite of the route/Losing track of your life and what it's about.

At a time when careful, introspective songwriters can get lost in a sea of divas, Mary Chapin's talents still easily eclipse most of her peers. But Between's more challenging moments beg the question: What else could she accomplish if she tackled more complex issues and stretched beyond lush lyrics and mellow melodies?

-- Katie Dodd

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