When: Fri., July 16, 8 p.m. 2010
“I’ll never be safe in crowded rooms,” Mary Chapin Carpenter sings on “I Have a Need for Solitude,” the centerpiece of her new album The Age of Miracles. You can take that line (and the wince-inducing title) as pure pop-star solipsism, or as a frank admission from an artist who made herself satisfy all the demands that stardom on Music Row entails — the meet-and-greets, the radio ass-kissing, the careful commercial algebra — with a smile that seemed to hide gritted teeth. Kids teething on Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift probably see her as the queen of Starbucks country, but in the late 1980s she proved herself an outstanding judge of left-field material (Lucinda Williams, Marshall Crenshaw, Tom Waits) and a writer whose smart, saucy, feminist, unabashedly book-fed songs put a whole new spin on countrypolitan. Her recent albums have a kind of heavy-hearted sobriety, but there’s always the chance she could surprise you with the sting of her unbitten tongue — e.g., the uncensored lyrics of “You Don’t Know Me (I’m the Opening Act),” her anthem for the world’s oppressed bill-fillers — or her deftly chosen covers, like her hands-in-the-air resurrection of Mick Jagger’s solo obscurity “Party Doll.” Live, she blooms — even in crowded rooms.