Last week’s review of the latest splendid album from Mary Chapin Carpenter brought forth memories of her most recent tour to Australia, a tour where she was accompanied by the absolutely marvellous Tift Merritt.
That double wasn’t just smart, melodic and personal, it was also a lesson in the craft of writing and the effectiveness of (quite different but complementary) natural live performance.
Wind Back Wednesday is the time machine taking us back to 2015.
MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER AND TIFT MERRITT
Enmore Theatre, August 27
You can look at this two ways.
One: it stinks that instead of operating on the fringes of the alt.country/Americana fringe since her Grammy-winning years in the mid ‘90s, if Mary Chapin Carpenter was male, Texan and had some kind of substance issue in her past, she’d be legendary, lauded and filling this place twice over.
And her friend Tift Merritt would be the much talked about acolyte and next generation torchbearer bringing something soulful to the mix in her own shows.
Or two: can you feel the quality in the songwriting? And the singing? And how about the fact that we are getting it at close quarters, in three piece (Chapin Carpenter) and solo (Merritt), with the charm and ease of company you expect from old friends not battered survivors or smug egos-in-boots.
Now, the former approach is undoubtedly valid. You could put Chapin Carpenter’s This Shirt, which was an early standout for its insight and tenderness, or The Age Of Miracles, which began the night in an almost dispassionate telling of history-made-modern, in any songwriter-in-the-round setup, and they would concede to no one, be it Guy Clark and James Taylor or, say, Justin Townes Earle and – heaven forbid – James Bay and David Grey.
And Merritt’s holy soul piano version of Good Hearted Man, with a touch of rasp to her voice, her gently smoothed country tragic Bramble Rose, and the new My Boat, with its lyrics drawn from Raymond Carver, make it clear she’s got the goods on a number of more ballyhooed contenders. None of whom can sell a song in the full-bodied way she does either.
But grumbling wouldn’t suit this show really, for as Chapin Carpenter sang “I don’t cling to remorse or regret” and she showed that in the last song, a dignified declaration of strength called The Things That We Are Made Of.
With pianist Jon Carroll as usual bringing just the right touch to the keys or vocals and guitarist Austin Nevins, tasteful but never perfunctory, Chapin Carpenter could slow down Lucinda Williams’ Passionate Kisses to heighten the intensity, bring some later life wisdom to the sass in I Feel Lucky or deliver Only A Dream with quiet passion.
Let’s be happy then we got this pairing. And happier still that there is still one more chance to see them before the next hot new thing blows into town.