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Time Sex Love (Columbia Records)

Album Review

It's been a five-year dry spell since Mary Chapin Carpenter's last album of new songs - so what a relief it is when her latest, Time*Sex*Love*, comes on like a flood. Its 15 songs (including one unlisted track) sprawl over 73 minutes, all riding the shifting, push-and-pull currents of the title's three broad topics.

On the Time side, the characters in these songs have either not enough of it - as in the bracing first single, "Simple Life" - or just enough to drive themselves crazy with regret. Sex turns up in songs like "Slave To The Beauty" and "King Of Love" as a perilous addiction, or as a weapon people use against one another.

Love, of course, is everywhere, but it's usually not very pretty. In the heartbreaking "What Was It Like," Mary Chapin sweetly sings bitter words to a former lover: You took something that felt so good, and crushed it because you could. There are bright spots like the hard-earned happy ending in "The Dreaming Road," but usually the only hope comes from the knowledge that, as she sings in the Beach Boys-ish "Maybe World," All mistakes are worth making.

Mary Chapin's insightful, emotionally wrenching lyrics are couched in moody and sympathetic music. The subtle backward guitar snaking through "King Of Love" suggests the title character's final coldness, while the subdued drumming on "Someone Else's Prayer" conjures the nagging questions in the words. In that song and others, Mary Chapin sings in a startlingly intimate near-whisper, as if secrets are being shared.

On Time*Sex*Love*, Mary Chapin Carpenter has honed the edges of her songs to a fine point. Maybe that's why they cut so deeply.

- Chris Neal

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