A night that began with gentle folk strumming culminated in a whole lot of twistin' and shoutin'.
Mary Chapin Carpenter is enjoying a triumphant return to performing after her last proposed tour was truncated due to the singer/songwriter suffering a pulmonary embolism in 2007. Carpenter announced to the Berklee Performance Center crowd in Boston Sunday (June 27) that, with three albums released in that span, the thrill of taking to the stage was long overdue.
Carpenter teamed with jazz/pop opener Madeleine Peyroux in a celebration of Rounder Records' 40th anniversary, the artists' label based in nearby Burlington, Mass.
Carpenter fittingly opened with the swaying "We Traveled So Far," the first track on her new set, "The Age of Miracles," which, with a debut atop Billboard's Folk Albums chart in May, marked her first No. 1 on a Billboard survey since 1994.
She segued into the set's uptempo "I Put My Ring Back On," a song that, had it been released as a single in the '90s, likely would have joined her list of jangly smashes that dominated country radio throughout the decade. (Carpenter sent 27 tracks onto the Country Songs chart between 1989 and 2001, including nine top 10s).
Carpenter sprinkled in her well-known classics - "Passionate Kisses," "Shut Up and Kiss Me" (her only No. 1 on Country Songs, in 1994) and "I Feel Lucky" - but moreso rewarded core fans with endearing album cuts from throughout her career.
Exhibiting the uncommon lyrical depth that has defined her successful straddling of folk and country, Carpenter introduced "The Calling" by applauding those who follow their muse, including her sister, a tireless athlete to whom the singer self-deprecatingly admitted she is amazed to be related, considering their differences in workout discipline. On "Mrs. Hemingway," the singer tenderly examined the long, rich life of the title character after divorcing her husband, iconic journalist Ernest, in 1927.
"Halley Came to Jackson," a hidden gem from 1990's "Shooting Straight in the Dark," recounted a stargazer's view of the famed comet both young and young-at-heart in 1910 and 1986. Celebrating a peace earned from her recovered health, and her marriage in 2002, Carpenter referred to the cut as her "serotonin song. I wish it would last 45 minutes."
Carpenter closed her 17-song, 90-minute set with the last two tracks on "The Age of Miracles": the title song, whose message, she imparted, is about "resilience and the power of communication," and the album's first single, the country/rock "The Way I Feel," complete with an apt lyrical ode in its chorus to Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down."
With time before the venue's curfew for a one-song encore, Carpenter ran through her rollicking, New Orleans-inflected "Down at the Twist and Shout," a No. 2 hit on Country Songs in 1991. Like Carpenter, her five-piece band - Jim Henry (guitars), longtime writing and producing collaborator John Jennings (guitars), Vinnie Santoro (drums), Don Dixon (bass) and Jon Carroll (piano) - expertly balanced the varied sounds in the singer's vast songbook.
Peyroux opened the bill with a mix compatible with Carpenter's catalog. Backed by her own band, similarly adept at switching styles, from sparse, jazzy pop to rock-tinged blues, the singer sampled her four albums, including a heartfelt cover of Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," which she recorded on her 2004 release, "Careless Love."
Here is Mary Chapin Carpenter's setlist:
"We Traveled So Far"
"I Put My Ring Back On"
"Naked to the Eye"
"Stones in the Road"
"Halley Came to Jackson"
"I Have a Need for Solitude"
"I Am a Town"
"Why Shouldn't We"
"Shut Up and Kiss Me"
"I Feel Lucky"
"The Age of Miracles"
"The Way I Feel"
"Down at the Twist and Shout"