Mary Chapin Carpenter says she grew up “just down the road, exit 7A,” in Princeton. Five Grammy Awards and 13 million album sales later, she finally played Morristown’s Community Theatre on Tuesday.
Mary Chapin, what took you so long?
The crowd obviously felt it was worth the wait, giving the singer hearty standing ovations for a show that deftly mixed introspective cuts from her new CD, “The Age of Miracles,” with uptempo favorites including “Passionate Kisses,” “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” “Halley Came to Jackson” and “I Feel Lucky.”
Okay, we have to cut Mary Chapin a little slack. A pulmonary embolism curtailed her touring–and threatened her life–three years ago.
The doctors seem to have done a good job. Mary Chapin’s voice sounds strong as ever.
What has always made her so appealing is the way she defies easy labels. A Brown graduate who made her name in Nashville, she can belt out a tune with the best female rockers. As she roared through a greatest hits encore set with her superb five-piece band, it was hard to stay seated. The Community Theatre really needs a dance area for nights like this.
Yet the song that knocked me out was a delicate musical poem, “Mrs. Hemingway.” The title refers to Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, who eventually lost the author to her best friend.
Mary Chapin evokes Paris of the early ’20s, when Ernest and Hadley were intoxicated with life and love. The results are moving without being maudlin. At 52, Mary Chapin Carpenter may just be hitting her prime as a songwriter.
Backing her on Tuesday were longtime collaborator John Jennings on guitar, Jim Henry on guitar, bass player Don Dixon, Jon Carroll on keyboards and Vinnie Santoro on drums.
But the real star was a nameless roadie who dutifully supplied Mary Chapin with a new guitar for virtually every song.
Evidently, Mary Chapin goes through guitars the way Imelda Marcos went through shoes.
Don’t know what label to apply there.
One more question for Mary Chapin… why not perform a song or two with opener Carrie Newcomer?
Each woman heaped praise on the other during the show, and Mary sings harmony on Carrie’s latest album, “Before and After.”
One of Carrie’s more intriguing songs Tuesday was “Ghost Train,” inspired by Wikipedia. Carrie said she was nudged by her daughter to find a random entry on the website and compose a song about it.