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Carpenter never left, but she's back It was not an off year when the country star took a year off


By almost any accounting, 1993 was a great year for Mary Chapin Carpenter. Her last album, "Come On Come On," continued to sell steadily; her version of Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses" extended her audience into the pop mainstream, and she came home a winner from both the Grammy and Country Music Association awards shows.

But as far as she was concerned, the best thing about 1993 was that Mary Chapin Carpenter had the year off.

It wasn't as if she had had enough and decided to drop out of the business entirely. But after several years on the treadmill, chasing after success and trying to meet the demands of an ever-increasing army of fans, Carpenter decided it was time for a break. So after finishing her tour for "Come On Come On" in early '93, she packed up, went home, and put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign.

Naturally, some people in the music business thought she was nuts. "There's a pressure, especially in country music, to be out there all the time," she says. "You always have to have a single coming up on the charts, and you have to have 'product' out there all the time. And to me, it's very ironic and gratifying that [when] I got my first No. 1 song, I was kind of missing in action."

"A couple other things happened that sort of dispelled that notion that you have to be out there all the time or people will forget about you," she adds. "It can be really healthy for everybody to do that, and I think more and more people are doing that. Because people can get so burned out. I know that I was."

On the other hand, she realized how much she liked what she did when she found herself planning a short tour last summer, just before the release of her new album, "Stones In the Road."

It wasn't that she was worried about being forgotten, or hoped to drum up interest in the album.

"I just wanted to be out there," she says. "It felt real different to be able to do it like that, and that was a revelation to me. I realized that part of [the pleasure] is because you are taking that time for yourself."

Carpenter admits that there was one unexpected downside to taking such a lengthy hiatus. "I think the thing that bothers me is that when people do take time off, the next time they record there are those inevitable articles and things that say, 'It's a comeback,' " she says. "You just want to say, 'No. I didn't know I went anywhere. I just wasn't in your town.'

"That's the pressure that gets put on people, that I think is so artificial and strange."

Maybe so, but it doesn't appear to have affected Carpenter much -- particularly on the road. Just ask anyone in her opening act, the Mavericks.

"She's so gracious," says Mavericks drummer Paul Deakin. "I mean, we get an hour to play, rather than the standard 35-40 minutes. Sometimes opening acts get only 80 percent of the P.A., and only a couple of lights, so it doesn't look spectacular. She lets us go out and put on a real show.

"It's almost like being a co-headliner with her."

Carpenter in concert

When: Friday, April 21, 8 p.m

Where: U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Hall

Tickets: Sold out

Call: (800) US4-NAVY

"Stones In the Road"

To hear excerpts from Mary Chapin Carpenter's current album, "Stones In the Road," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6214 after you hear the greeting.

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