LOS ANGELES — On her masterful 1990 album, "Shooting Straight in the Dark," country chanteuse Mary-Chapin Carpenter sings of a place called Middle Ground, a dull sort of limbo "between up and down."
The weariness displayed on that tune has been replaced with a (( bracing confidence on Ms. Carpenter's just-released Columbia Records album, "Come on Come On." The new assuredness can be heard on the first single culled from the album, "I Feel Lucky." Here Ms. Carpenter imagines country music mavericks Dwight Yoakam and Lyle Lovett competing for her affections.
"Hey Dwight, hey Lyle, boys you don't have to fight," Ms. Carpenter sings in a buoyant alto voice. "Hot dog, I feel lucky tonight!"
Relaxing poolside at a West Hollywood hotel recently, Ms. Carpenter joked that "I Feel Lucky" was little more than "an insight into [her] vivid imagination."
"You just switch the names on any given night according to who you want to pander to," said Ms. Carpenter, who is scheduled to sing at Wolf Trap Farm Park on July 18.
"I ran into Lyle at the airport. Last fall, I did a taping of 'Austin City Limits,' where I played 'I Feel Lucky.' I guess some friends of Lyle's heard the song. Lyle walks up to me in the airport and says, 'Chapin, I heard about this song you wrote about me!' He was very good-natured about it."
Ms. Carpenter admitted that "Come on Come On" features "harder tempos" than her previous efforts. "It's pretty heavily guitar-driven music," Ms. Carpenter said.
The album's more up-tempo feel is partly attributable to the involvement of songwriter Don Schlitz, who collaborated on four of the record's 12 songs. Ms. Carpenter said collaborating with Mr. Schlitz was a different experience from working with her usual co-writer, guitarist John Jennings.
"My method of co-writing with Jennings was to write the song and bring it to him, and ask him to help me with the bridge or something," Ms. Carpenter explained.
"But with Schlitz you sit down from the get-go and write from scratch. It was very intimidating for me. I just thought, 'Oh, he's going to think every line is so stupid.' You don't know if it's going to click or not, and I had real reservations going into it. But it ended up being a really wonderful experience."
Ms. Carpenter insisted the preponderance of up-tempo songs had nothing to do with the success of "Down at the Twist & Shout," a Cajun-flavored rocker that became the most popular single from her 1990 album, "Shooting Straight in the Dark" album. The song featured the accompaniment of the celebrated Louisiana act Beausoleil, and reached the No. 2 position of Billboard magazine's country music chart.
" 'Down at the Twist & Shout' is very special and utterly different from anything I've ever recorded, because of the involvement of Beausoleil and the style of that music," Ms. Carpenter said. "It's like an aberration in a way. That style of music can only be an affectation for me because I didn't grow up listening to that medium of music.
"The down side of that song is that I've been pitched all these songs that sound like 'Son of Twist & Shout.' I feel like explaining to people, 'You don't understand!' I've got radio programmers saying, 'So, you're going to make a Cajun album now?' When I hear that, it makes me feel they're not too familiar with what I've done."
The major difference between "Come on Come On" and her other recordings, she believes, is in the lyrics.
"The previous albums emphasized songs that were drawn primarily from inside me and my realm," the singer said. "There's a number of songs on this album that look inward more than outward.
"It's not like I wanted to get away from introspection. I think when you're a writer you want to address things that are happening to you at the time or mean something to you." She laughed.
Ms. Carpenter's fortunes have improved considerably since the release of her 1987 debut album, "Hometown Girl." She is quite popular in her hometown of Washington, where she regularly dominates the city's regional music awards show, "The Wammies."
She has won the Academy of Country Music's award for Best New Female Vocalist, and has been nominated for Best Female Vocalist and the CMA's Horizon Award for artists "showing significant growth and development." She also won a Grammy for "Down at the Twist & Shout."
But burgeoning popularity has its disadvantages. The singer said her schedule is so busy that it barely leaves her time to compose.
"Frustration takes hold when you don't have a lot of time to write," Ms. Carpenter said. "You've got to have a life in order to write about it. That's something that's become apparent to me in the last few years. I used to have so much time to write, and it's still the most precious thing in the world to me . . .