REVIEW: Personal struggles can’t silence Carpenter

Country-folk star played Barrymore Friday
REVIEW: Personal struggles can’t silence Carpenter

Mary Chapin Carpenter has just gone through a divorce.

If fans didn’t know that when they came to her show Friday night at the Barrymore, they would have found out very quickly once the show began.

But her personal struggles didn’t have any effect on the concert on the East Side Friday. Carpenter is on a 39-city tour, and came back to Madison to support her new CD “Ashes and Roses.”

The divorce, along with the death of her father and a health scare, had a direct impact on the writing on the latest album.  In the concert, she even admitted to having a “narrative arc” on the CD, and that “by the middle of the CD, things start looking a little brighter….but this one is from the beginning of the CD.”

But the sad songs didn’t weigh too heavily on Carpenter, or her audience. Her return to Madison was enthusiastically welcomed by a packed crowd of 40- and 50- something’s at the Barrymore.

After starting with a number of songs off her new album, Carpenter went back to many of the songs that made her a huge success in the 1990’s. She ran off a number of her classics, including “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” “Passionate Kisses,” and “Down at the Twist and Shout.”  The audience also reacted positively when she played “Girls With Guitars,” a song she’s never recorded, but wrote for Wynonna Judd, who  turned it into a hit record.

Carpenter has lost some of her higher range since her high point in the 1990’s, but she hasn’t lost her connection with her audience.

Carpenter kept a running dialogue with the audience throughout much of the 1 hour, 40 minute concert.  She gave a lot of background to her songs that many artists don’t do. That conversation helped her blend her sad, but beautiful, songs with more of her upbeat music.

Carpenter was backed by a tight five piece band, who played everything from piano to mandolin.

Opening up for Carpenter was Tift Merritt, a singer-songwriter from Raleigh, NC that matched up well with Carpenter’s sound. Merritt sang her 45 minute set without the backup of a band, but with a powerful voice that should help her get attention with her next album, “Traveling Alone,” which will be released in October.

Carpenter finished with a three song encore that seemed to encompass a lot of what she was trying to get across in the concert.  Two of the songs in the encore came from her multi-platinum album “Come On, Come On” in 1992. She played “I Feel Lucky” and “The Hard Way” back-to back. And Friday’s concert definitely talked about the hard road Carpenter has had to travel the last few years. But her strong performance made Carpenter, and her fans, feel lucky she’s continuing her journey.