November 19, 1990 12:00 PM

Mary-Chapin Carpenter

One of the virtues of these modern liberated times is that women can—in country music, anyway—be sensitive, smart, aggressive and wholesome, all at the same time.

Carpenter’s third album is a bronzable example, full of songs in which she curses her scowling romantic destiny in various entertaining ways, as both heel-kicker and kidney-puncher.

“Going Out Tonight” (a Carpenter-John Jennings tune), for instance, is a declaration of independence, with a rueful turn: “I’m going to tell myself that someone I adore/Is the one I’m with/Ain’t that what friends are for?” Even Carpenter’s effervescent “Down at the Twist and Shout,” as lively a neo-Cajun tune as you’re likely to hear, notes “There ain’t no cure for my blues today.”

In her neatly arranged “What You Didn’t Say”—full of emotional vacuums disguised as musical rests—she offers the constructive criticism: “You say you’re listening but you never hear/The strains of silence have grown so strong.” While in “The More Things Change,” she lets the bitterness show: “I’m the same sweet girl you couldn’t get enough of/Way back when you pledged your love.”

Carpenter still sounds hearty and true-voiced. (She and Melissa Etheridge might have been imprinted from the same stamp, except that in the case of Etheridge the ink smudged a bit.) She arouses lots of sympathetic vibrations too. You’re never sure if you want to buy her a glass of milk or a double bourbon, but a little uncertainty in life never hurt. (Columbia)

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