Style: Folk-rock ruminations; what Jackson Browne might concoct were he a woman.
Worldview: "There are zealots and preachers / and readers of dreams. / The righteous yell loudest, / and the saved rise to sing. / The lonely and lost are just waiting to hear / any moment their purpose / will be perfectly clear."
Overall quality: As relentless examinations of mid-life crises go, not bad; at nearly an hour, too much of a not-bad thing.
Style: Sixties soul/jazz/R&B singing meets Spector/Motown meets electronica.
Cautions: "Me and Mr. Jones," "Just Friends," "Tears Dry on Their Own" (obscenities); the title cut (crudity); not "You Know I'm No Good," which is dramatic, not didactic.
Worldview: "Over futile odds / and laughed at by the gods / and now the final frame, / love is a losing game."
Overall quality: Arresting sound showcasing sad insights rendered uselessly imprecise by excessive foul-mouthery.
Style: Slow, acoustic ruminations.
Worldview: "I love the things that you've given me / and most of all that I am free / to have a song that I can sing on election day."
Overall quality: Stubbornly quiet little thing that she is, it's no surprise that Jones should battle encroaching dullness, but except for the two topical songs (she's anti-war, sort of), this album sounds like outtakes from her first two.
Style: Folk-rock/pop with country roots.
Cautions: "Not Ready to Make Nice" (cursing).
Worldview: "How . . . can the words that I said / send somebody so over the edge / that they'd write me a letter / sayin' that I'd better shut up and sing?"
Overall quality: This album is entertaining and mostly apolitical, but the Grammy folks wouldn't have proclaimed it Album of the Year if it hadn't come to symbolize liberal martyrdom.
Style: Acoustic live greatest hits, volume one.
Worldview: "All of a sudden, without anyone (except a million kids) noticing, Neil Young of Winnipeg and Toronto has arrived as a major pop star, someone to reckon with on the rich, heady, crowd-drawing level of James Taylor" (from the liner newspaper review).
Overall quality: Introductory applause/spoken song introductions: 8:53; songs/subsequent applause: 58:44; spoken intros: interesting once; songs: clear/compelling; applause: rapturous.
Mary Chapin Carpenter is one of those dependable, talented singer-songwriters for whom the CD has been a curse: Had she been limited by the restrictions of vinyl to 10 songs instead of the 13 that extend her latest album, The Calling (Zoe), to 58 minutes, her limitations would only be detectable instead of obvious.
Or maybe she just needs a sense of humor. No matter how empathetically observed, carefully sung, or lovingly crafted this album's many articulate songs about middle-aged uncertainty, the seriousness begins to weigh heavily about halfway through, burdening the project beyond any relief that merely alternating the slow, quiet ones with the faster, louder ones can provide. The overall sameness keeps an above-average song like "It Must Have Happened" from standing out the way it otherwise might. It also causes Carpenter's Hurricane Katrina song ("Houston") and her conservatives-are-evil song ("On with the Song") to stick out so much that they feel tacked on out of secular-progressive obligation.