Mary Chapin Carpenter

By Paul Moffett

It was definitely a songwriter's night, in multiples and with just a hint of attitude, when Mary Chapin Carpenter played the Palace Theatre on June 12. Carpenter's hits have all been in contemporary country but when WAMZ on-air personality Sonny Stevens came on-stage to barely a ripple of acknowledgment, announced that she had never been in the Palace, urged everybody to stay around for Mary Chapin Carpenter (!) and left, it was plain this was not a WAMZ crowd.

But that's all right, because Carpenter is a songwriter/singer of considerable skill and talent and she picked an equally skillful group of players to back her up, including opening singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale and Rounder Artist Duke Levine.

Opener Jim Lauderdale did a valiant job against a background hum of conversation, but a less-than-perfect selection of otherwise good songs made it an uphill battle. Sounding rather like Jimmie Dale Gilmore without the Texas twang, he offered up several excellent tunes, many of which had been cut by bigger artists, including Kathy Mattea and George Strait. A song written and sung in the style of Ralph Stanley drew some appreciative applause, but because the audience was unfamiliar with his material, they were also apparently unwilling to make the effort to hear what he did.

On a night when the women's room was doubly overcrowded, Mary Chapin Carpenter made the audience feel like guests in her living room, when a gang of her friends stopped by to pick a little. She served up a set of songs that reached all members of the audience, whether or not they felt any special connections to the performer.

With a six-piece band which shrank and swelled as needed, Carpenter demonstrated that her years in the business had left her skillful and well-schooled, if somewhat bruised by the day-to-day grind of playing covers in restaurants. Her assault on "Desperado," later repeated when keyboardist John Carroll sang the tune Donald Duck style, was just another version of the "I Am An Artist Above All That" theme common to many songwriters. She should hope that some day one of her tunes is so popular that all other musicians loathe it.

She didn't get to her country hits until near the end of night and those were more rocked out than even current country sound. By that time, her traveling dog Riley, a stage hog hound, had put a homegrown feeling on the show with his occasional interruptions and the audience left thoroughly satisfied.