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Live review: Country singer Mary Chapin Carpenter impresses at the Cambridge Corn Exchange

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Mary Chapin Carpenter at the Cambridge Corn Exchange (5/02/17)
Mary Chapin Carpenter at the Cambridge Corn Exchange (5/02/17)

Sunday, February 5 saw a welcome dose of country music arrive in Cambridge, as an artist who released her first album 30 years ago treated her fans to a mixture of the old and the new on the last night of a short UK tour.

Mary Chapin Carpenter
Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary Chapin Carpenter cites Cambridge as one of her favourite cities and the Corn Exchange as one of her favourite venues. The 58-year-old singer/songwriter from Princeton, New Jersey, who released her debut LP Hometown Girl in 1987, last performed in the city at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2016 and was appearing tonight as part of the City Roots festival.

Able support came in the form of Derbyshire-born Bella Hardy, who treated the appreciative audience to her tender and heartfelt material. Accompanied by a sole guitarist, the 32-year-old played the violin and accordion and impressed with her angelic vocals.

Carpenter took to the stage at 8.30pm backed by a pianist, guitarist and drummer and launched into Why Walk When You Can Fly?, the sublime opening track on 1994’s Stones in the Road. This was followed by a more recent tune, Something Tamed Something Wild, from last year’s well-received The Things That We Are Made Of.

The artist’s only number one single, Shut Up and Kiss Me, was up next and sounded as fresh as it did back in 1994.

In between songs, Carpenter regaled the crowd with amusing anecdotes and stories and revealed the reason why she was changing guitar on every song (it was because they were all tuned differently, therefore saving time). She talked of her love for her cats and dogs and admitted that she kisses her animals “on the mouth.”

The fact that this revelation was succeeded by the Lucinda Williams-penned Passionate Kisses (a number four hit on the country charts for Mary Chapin back in 1993) was pure coincidence, she joked.

Mary Chapin also recalled some of the strangest questions she’s ever been asked, such as: “Is that a real song or did you write it?” and “Are you a local musician or are you professional?”

Meanwhile, the great songs kept on coming; the lovely Note on a Windshield, the insanely groovy I Feel Lucky and the wistful I Take My Chances were all masterfully done. The concert concluded with a fittingly brilliant solo rendition of her most recent album’s title track.

Unsurprisingly for someone who took part in the anti-Trump protests in Washington DC that followed the inauguration in January, Carpenter was very vocal in her criticism of the current US president and talked of the “freak show going on back home.”

By the end of the evening, only a handful of people were cheering and clapping the comments. I imagined therefore that many in the audience, like me, are getting a bit fed up of celebrities and figures in the entertainment world complaining about the election result and taking ‘cheap shots’ at Mr Trump.

A shame really as the music in tonight’s show was – almost without exception – absolutely fantastic.


* This review is the opinion of the reviewer.

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