Ever since her first album in 1987, Mary Chapin Carpenter has shown no signs of slowing down. Apart from her six year gap between albums in the late 90s, she has released a consistent stream of albums and placed highly on varying US charts, whether it be Folk or Country-related, with her most recent orchestral album Songs from the Movie reaching the top 10 under Folk. Rather than continuing the orchestral reimagining of the previous album, however, The Things That We Are Made Of takes it back to the usual for Carpenter.
The Things That We Are Made Of is deeply rooted in the Americana style. Something Tamed Something Wild opens the album on an upbeat note, with electric and acoustic guitars playing alongside a subtle string section to make something airy yet catchy, but the remainder of the album is much simpler. Aside from the soft rock of Map of My Heart, where the electric guitar returns once again for its own solo section, a majority of the album’s songs verge on acoustic, featuring a simple percussive section at most and with the acoustic guitar taking center stage.
As such, it’s Carpenter’s lyrics that define the album. With lyrics that are relatable and emotional, they add character and life to songs that would otherwise be rendered predictable or less enjoyable without them. The Middle Ages is the strongest example, recounting stories and thoughts one has as they enter the middle aged stage of their life; something most people can relate to, and that gives the song that aforementioned relatable air that makes it much more endearing. The album does enter a lapse in the second half, where there’s nothing akin to Something Tamed Something Wild to keep the mood of the album afloat and a majority of the best material sitting squarely in the first half of the tracklist.
The Things That We Are Made Of isn’t quite adventurous or ground-breaking, but it remains enjoyable regardless of the fact. With the minimal elements of each song making them difficulty to decipher from one another, it’s the lyrics that truly sell the package and in turn make the album more enjoyable, especially in its first half. While it’s not quite as endearing as her previous material or as refreshing as Songs from the Movie, The Things That We Are Made Of is still another quality album from Carpenter.