Mary Chapin Carpenter made her best albums when she was breaking from Nashville and testing what country radio would let her get away with. Time*Sex*Love (2001) remains a lost art-pop classic (and, sadly, a commercial misfire). Since leaving CBS for Zoë/Rounder, she's phased out the country and power pop and returned to her New England singer/songwriter roots.
The Age of Miracles finds her at her most intense. The songs were written after she'd recovered from a life-threatening pulmonary embolism, and there's a resonant sense of taking stock. She can pull off an ambitious story song ("4 June 1989" looks into the head of a soldier in Tiananmen Square), but, as always, it's her direct personal statements ("I Have a Need for Solitude") that carry the most weight. The music, on the other hand, continues the low-key, folk-based turn of her last few albums.
Guitarist Duke Levine stays in tasteful/restrained mode throughout, and Carpenter's voice, which has deepened over the years, seldom rises above a conversational tone. Even "I Put My Ring Back On," the one echo of her hitmaking days, sounds a bit soft-pedaled. Carpenter remains one of the most thoughtful writers around, but lately she's been reluctant to leave her musical comfort zone.
MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER + MADELEINE PEYROUX | Berklee Performance Center, 136 Mass Ave, Boston | June 27 at 8 pm | $46.50-$56.50 | ticketmaster.com