On June 13, 1989, country music's mainstream audience met Mary Chapin Carpenter. The future hitmaker and multi-Gammy Awards winner wasn't new to the studio -- her folk-leaning debut album, Hometown Girl, arrived in 1987 and featured bluegrass mainstays Mark O'Connor and Tony Rice -- yet it's Carpenter's sophomore effort, State of the Heart, that helped Class of '89 peers Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Lorrie Morgan raised the genre's creative bar.
Carpenter established herself as her country music's poet laureate beginning with her consecutive Top 20 singles "How Do," "Never Had It So Good," "Quittin' Time" and "Something of a Dreamer." Those songs and seven other cuts on State of the Heart planted the seeds for a commercially and critically successful run.
Read on to revisit Carpenter's groundbreaking album.
"Country with equal doses of rock and European folk influence" describes more than Steve Earle's breakthrough sound. Those descriptors also suit this track, on which Carpenter and her supporting cast really let loose for her farthest departure yet from any sort of industry-dictated singer-songwriter mold.
Carpenter tries her hand at accordion-accompanied mountain music with this tale that, to at least one listener’s ears, paints a vivid picture of an Appalachian hideaway.
Such lyrical gems as “now there's a hole here in my pocket where all my dreams have gone” prove Carpenter as a wise wordsmith with a firm grasp on matters of the heart.
Orchestral folk music sets the mood for this character study of a long-distance mistress. It sums up the doubt and loneliness that come with being on the losing end of someone else’s double life.
Carpenter’s earliest material marketed as country included this sassy, smart deep cut that, in an alternate timeline, would’ve been a potential chart-topper for the living embodiment of its lyrics, Wynonna Judd.
This country, folk and Heartland rock hybrid introduced a formidable writing team: Carpenter and guitarist and co-producer John Jennings. Here’s a fun trivia answer for record collectors: Jennings played guitar in an early version of the heavy metal band Pentagram.
The second song on State of the Heart gave many fans their first exposure to Carpenter’s innate ability to craft the sort of detailed, character-driven story songs that made her the poet-at-heart’s go-to country singer well into the ‘90s.
As its title implies, this one would suit a country playlist for prom night, yet it’s more than a fun excuse to cut the rug. As usual, Carpenter’s lyrics construct the types of characters that connect with the everyday people with lives that are nothing like a fairytale on the dance floor.
This galloping country throwback, featuring the great Tommy Hannum (Tammy Wynette, Ricky Van Shelton, Wynonna & the Big Noise) on pedal steel, sounds more like something you’d hear at Tootsie’s on a good night than the singer-songwriter material from Carpenter’s prior album.
Carpenter didn’t co write this one; that credit goes to the odd couple of electronic music pioneer Roger Linn and Robb Royer, a co-founder of the soft rock band Bread and the future co-writer of John Michael Montgomery's “Sold (The Grundy Country Auction Incident).” It proves that Carpenter was equally brilliant when interpreting others’ lyrics.
Carpenter could’ve worked at the Country Music Hall of Fame instead, per her ability to derive such a detailed story from a single garment. Also, if you love cats and country music, one specific line should reduce you to tears.