Music reviews

The Calling – Mary Chapin Carpenter
Back in the ’90s, Mary Chapin Carpenter dominated the charts with hits like “Down at the Twist and Shout,” “Passionate Kisses” and “I Feel Lucky.” But the Ivy Leaguer has basically been out of the spotlight for the last decade, living a peaceful life in rural Virginia and spending time with husband of five years Tim Smith, a contractor.

Carpenter, 49, has long since transcended the traditional notions of genre and style, finding widespread acclaim for her poetic, elegant compositions. And she has no problem weaving songs about public and political issues – Hurricane Katrina and the Dixie Chicks brouhaha find their way into this project. Among the prime picks are “Leaving Song” and “Your Life Story.” Welcome back, Chapin. B+

Greatest Hits – Gary Allan
Gary Allan’s not your typical do-anything-to-get-attention star. The 39-year-old Californian does things his way, from serving in the Army to selling cars to making great country music. Basically, let’s just say he’s uniquely spirited (aka he’s a rebel).

Back in 1996, Allan stormed onto the scene with his single “Her Man,” one of the greatest debut hits any Nashville artist has ever mustered. That song, along with 14 other smashes, are packaged on this MCA Nashville compilation. Among the hits, “Right Where I Need to Be,” “Nothing On but the Radio,” “Tough Little Boys” and “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful.” A+

Songs of Inspiration II – Alabama
In the February ’07 issue of Truckers News, we spotlighted the first new CD from supergroup Alabama in five years, Songs of Inspiration. As luck would have it, the boys from Fort Payne had a bevy of songs that didn’t make the cut, so they’ve conveniently come out with a follow-up, Songs of Inspiration II.

“This project is about performing these songs and just laying your heart and soul on the line vocally,” lead singer Randy Owen says. And Randy and the guys do just that, on hymns like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “Love Lifted Me” and “Precious Memories.” Teddy Gentry penned one of the 13-track CD’s original tunes, “When It Comes My Time.” Amen. B

Waking Up Laughing – Martina McBride
Sharon, Kan., native Martina McBride’s ninth studio album, led by the single “Anyway,” was solo-produced – a first for her – and features tunes cowritten by McBride. The four-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year has sold an impressive 16 million albums and has garnered 22 Top 10 hits during her 15 years on the charts, all the while pulling double duty as a mother of three young girls.

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At the ripe age of 40, McBride has the experience to know good songs. The powerful “Anyway” builds the backbone of the record, while “House of a Thousand Dreams” and “Cry Cry (‘Til the Sun Shines)” showcase McBride’s outstanding vocal talent. A-