May 17, 2004 12:00 PM

COUNTRY

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Country music certainly has a long history of sad songs. But since Mary Chapin Carpenter’s most attractive quality is her vivacious spirit, this follow-up to 2001’s Time*Sex*Love*, sung mostly in the lower parts of her vocal register and the dour regions of her demeanor, comes across as markedly downbeat. It’s not as grim as the work of her more self-flagellating contemporaries, but you could play its 12 tracks without once lifting a foot from the floor. Even the relatively lively “What Would You Say to Me”—which, as with the rest of the songs, the singer wrote—pales in comparison with the élan of Carpenter’s previous work. The lyrics to “Goodnight America” are uncharacteristically murky (“I’m from somewhere else/ Isn’t everybody?”) and the ponderous “Girls Like Me” evokes Alanis Morissette or Courtney Love more than Carpenter. At 46, Carpenter doesn’t have to kick up her heels every time she turns around, but a few signs of life would have gone a long way.

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