Mary Chapin Carpenter on her retrospective new album, headlining Belly Up Aspen
IF YOU GO …
Who: Mary Chapin Carpenter
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Sunday, June 24, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $55-$150
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
Celebrating the 30th anniversary of her first album, Mary Chapin Carpenter got nostalgic and decided to take stock of her career.
The country musician went into Peter Gabriel’s studio in rural England — a compound of 400-year-old stone buildings converted into cutting-edge music production facilities — to revisit and re-imagine her songs from the past three decades.
Carpenter picked one song from each of her 12 studio albums and recorded them live to tape. The result is the new album, “Sometimes Just the Sky.”
“It meant the world to me to mark that anniversary and to still be doing what I love to do — playing music, traveling the world and making albums,” Carpenter said in a recent phone interview from her home in Virginia. “It was a special project for me.”
A tour supporting the record brings Carpenter back to Belly Up Aspen on Sunday, one of three Colorado stops on her world tour.
She set down some ground rules in choosing her songs. She didn’t want to do anything she’d already re-recorded — ruling out the tracks on her 2014 orchestral album “Songs from the Movie” — and she didn’t want to do any “radio songs,” ruling out her biggest hits like “Passionate Kisses” and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” but opting for deep cut gems like “This Shirt” and “Heroes and Heroines.”
“I just felt like (the hits) stood on their own and I didn’t really feel the desire to explore anything different with them,” she explained. “So I was left with a whole lot of other songs. It was hard to pick.”
The process of looking back and examining her creative life was something like writing a memoir in song for Carpenter, and often as revelatory.
“I leaned that a lot of years can go by, but when you’re sitting with yourself and playing a song you haven’t played in a while they can still hold a whole lot of emotion,” she said. “I could be transported immediately back to the person I was and what I was going through at the time I wrote that song. … The emotions were as fresh as the first time I sang it.”
The retrospective record comes on the heels of an album of originals in 2016’s “The Things That We Are Made Of.” And the new release also includes the new song, “Sometimes Just the Sky,” which was inspired by Patti Smith.
Carpenter recalled going down a YouTube rabbit hole last year, watching videos of Smith, and ended up watching Smith give a talk to young people about her life. She encouraged the students to enjoy the small and simple things in life, started giving some examples and offhandedly said “sometimes just the sky,” which stuck with Carpenter.
“The phrase went right to my heart,” she said. “I couldn’t forget about it.”
Carpenter has been a regular on stages around the Centennial State and in Aspen throughout her career — a few years ago, she dubbed a five-show Colorado run her “world tour of Colorado” — but also has childhood roots here in Aspen.
Growing up in the Northeast, Carpenter was a competitive figure skater. Beginning in 1968, she spent four straight summers here for an intensive summer skate program at the Brown Ice Palace (now the Aspen Ice Garden).
“This was when Aspen was just full of hippies,” she recalled. “It was such a fabulous place and I was so young. I knew how lucky I was to be there and to spend my summer there.”
On her most recent stop at Belly Up, Carpenter wandered the West End neighborhood and around the ice rink and oriented herself along with her memories.
“I have a meaningful connection to Aspen,” she said.
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.