Fairfield Hall 17th July 2015
Every time Mary Chapin Carpenter announces a series of UK shows, those who have followed her know to always expect something different. In recent years she's performed with her rock n roll band, fellow songwriter and friend Shawn Colvin and a full orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall. This time round Mary Chapin comes as an acoustic trio with the magnificent pianist Jon Caroll and virtuoso guitarist Jonathan Trebing.
The intimate setting at Fairfield Hall starts with a enchanting support set from 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer Of The Year winner Bella Hardy, another hugely talented songwriter.
Despite selling in excess of 13 million records and winning 5 Grammys, Mary Chapin and her fellow musicians take to the stage with humility and are surprisingly reverent towards their enthralled audience. The Age Of Miracles, the most recent song in the set opens a show that focusses on 'deep cuts' – songs which are older album tracks and seldom heard on live or on the airwaves.
Of course there are a few old favourites thrown in for good measure; Lucky and Passionate Kisses for example, the latter described by Mary Chapin as a 'perfect vessel' of a song and is given a tender reworking. In between songs she shares her thoughts, drawing the listener close like an old friend. The relationship between the performer and the audience is always particularly special in these settings with no phone cameras to distract the crowd, no big stage show or fancy lighting set ups- this show is all about giving and receiving and having a universal experience through music and song.
This Shirt, The Hard Way, Why Walk When You Can Fly, Jon Doe 24 and The Rhythm Of The Blues taken from her 'unfortunate boyfriend cannon of material.' are all rarities that are thrilling to hear at the best of times, but with their stripped back arrangement you are really able to focus on the heart of the song and the heavenly harmonies that Mary Chapin Carpenter has become for. Only A Dream, taken from the album Come On, Come On has always been one of her most bitter-sweet songs but performed live it imbues a deep emotion in the listener which can't be matched on CD. Another track from that classic album is I'll Take My Chances, which is received with equal appreciation. It's a crime that an album of such strong work never charted in the UK, despite having near cult status in the folk/country/musical appreciation circles.
A standing ovation later and Bella Hardy joins the trio on stage for an old favourite, He Thinks He'll Keep Her. Mary Chapin then faces the audience alone to present a new song, The Things That We Are Made Of. Whilst her shows may be filled of surprises, this song is comprised of all the elements are quintessentially Mary Chapin Carpenter; a thoughtful sentiment, a beautiful melody and poetic lyrics – what else would you expect from a award winning song-writer of extraordinary talent!