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The Independent Culture
Several Grammys have trooped Mary Chapin Carpenter's way in recent years. She's been in the running for four in 1995 alone, a hell of a reward from the music industry, and no doubt well-earned.

She has, after all, played a pivotal role in opening up country to the new Nineties fem thinking. Where would the other multiple-Grammy-scooper Sheryl Crowe be without her making it acceptable to leave the stetson and winsome warblings behind? Perhaps that's why even mildly knocking her feels a bit like criticising the role of suffragettes in the feminist movement: kind of ungrateful.

But it must be said that Mary's 1994 album Stones in the Road is a very mellow affair. Lyrically, her staple fare is complex webs of relationships and Real Social Issues. But what she lacks is bite. Where there should be intensity, there's soft-focus guitars and pianos, and the over-riding image of Mary (right) getting those difficult feelings out of her system with the help of herbal tea and beautiful sunsets galore. Without her, country would be over-run by Garth Brooks robots happy to coin it in.

Trouble is, Stones in the Road is in danger of sitting comfortably next to any Brooks album in your collection when you want it to pick a fight with them.

Hammersmith Apollo, tonight & tomorrow