Before Taylor and Shania or Faith and Miranda, one name defined the best in country music: Mary Chapin Carpenter.
The five-time Grammy Award winner and member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame achieved stardom thanks to such ’90s hits as “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and “Passionate Kisses.” Now she brings a mix of her early and newer work to Peoples Security Bank Theater at Lackawanna College, Scranton, where she’ll perform Tuesday, Oct. 24, at 7:30 p.m. Australian singer-songwriter Emily Barker will open the show, which benefits Pocono Environmental Education Center.
“A lot of people don’t tour unless they have a brand new record, but we’re lucky enough that we can go out and play music whether we have something new to offer or not,” Carpenter said earlier this month by phone from her home in Virginia. “I’ve been playing a lot of songs from the new record, and that’s just been really joyful for me.”
The songstress released her 14th studio album, “The Things That We Are Made Of,” last year, the latest in a long line of work that began in the late ’80s. Carpenter really grabbed the public’s attention with “Come On Come On,” the 1992 album that produced several hits.
“There’s a lot of components that go into the success of a record, and certainly it was a moment in time that I had a certain amount of momentum with songs on the radio, and that was a whole different existence and situation as well,” Carpenter said, noting the album also had push from a major record label. “Momentum is a real thing. … Maybe people felt like it spoke to them.”
Her work has earned her numerous accolades, including Grammys for best female country vocal performance for four consecutive years — 1992 to 1995 — and best country album in 1995. The Country Music Association named her female vocalist of the year in 1992 and 1993, while the Academy of Country Music chose her as 1990’s top new female vocalist and 1992’s top female vocalist.
While Carpenter said she doesn’t consider herself “a prolifically topical songwriter,” she doesn’t shy away from social and political commentary in her music, either. But inspiration comes from everywhere, she added, and sometimes just a phrase can kick off an idea or “evoke a feeling that five minutes before I wasn’t anywhere near.” She goes long stretches without writing — usually while on tour — and prefers to work at home on her farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“It’s really beautiful, and it’s really serene,” Carpenter said. “That’s where I feel like I can get in touch with whatever that serious muse is. Right now, I’m kind of in a phase where I’m just kind of scribbling. I don’t have large themes that I’m chasing or anything like that, just small vignettes of things that haven’t yet fully blossomed.”
Her songs reflect where she was in the moment of penning them, she said, and while she might think she writes about her own experiences, she also sees how the music reaches others. Carpenter has noticed people on social media sharing how her latest album “reflects a lot of what they are going through.”
“The more personal something is, the more universal something is as well,” she said.
With a couple decades of songs to choose from, Carpenter crafts a set list that draws from “The Things That We Are Made Of” plus some of her older work, although it might change from show to show or if she accommodates a request. No matter where she plays though, from amphitheaters that seat thousands to more intimate venues, Carpenter looks to connect with the crowd.
“It’s really gratifying to look into the audience and see the faces of people who’ve come to see us year after year, and it’s also really great to see younger folks, too,” she said.