No question about it – a near-death experience is going to change your outlook on life.
Three years ago, singer-songwriter (and former country music star) Mary Chapin Carpenter suffered a pulmonary embolism. And on Thursday night, her first tour since then landed at The Egg in Albany, and she sang straight from heart for a nearly sold-out crowd of fans who were clearly happy to see her back in action.
The core of her two-hour performance was a half-dozen stellar songs from her recently released album, “The Age of Miracles,” a collection of songs illuminating the themes of resilience and redemption. Songs like the hushed “I Have a Need for Solitude” (with pianist Jon Carroll and a shaker played by drummer Vince Santoro as the lone accompaniment) and the intimate, uplifting waltz “Mrs. Hemingway” were highlights of the show. They were finely nuanced songs of beauty and compassion sung with gentle assurance.
An exceptionally literate, thoughtful writer, Carpenter was perhaps at her best with the wistful, poetic “I Am a Town,” harkening back to older, simpler times and small town values.
She came armed with a crack band, led as usual by Carroll and her longtime cohort John Jennings on guitar. But there were a few surprises, too. On bass was Don Dixon, perhaps better known as a go-to jangle-pop producer who’s helmed albums for R.E.M., James McMurtry, the Smithereens and the sublime Marti Jones. And new recruit in the band was Vermont singer-songwriter Jim Henry, who shone brightly on guitar, as well as mandolin and dobro.
The band was perhaps a bit too subtle to actually rock out, but they did manage to turn it up a couple of notches on Carpenter’s earlier more uptempo tunes, including “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” “I Feel Lucky” and “Passionate Kisses.”
The biggest surprises of the night came at the end of the show. After referencing Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” during her show-closing “The Way I Feel,” Carpenter and her band returned for their second set of encores only to uncork covers of Petty’s “You Wreck Me” and Ian Hunter’s “Flowers.”
Whoa! I didn’t see that one coming.
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
An excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review in The Daily Gazette: “Carpenter isn’t afraid of the dark, despite her health scare, and some songs took you down and deep. But she prefers, loves, the light; and it shone generously on Thursday in songs that acknowledged trouble but transcended it with strength and hope.”
We Traveled So Far
I Put My Ring Back On
Why Walk When You Can Fly
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
I Take My Chances
The Age of Miracles
The Way I Feel
The Hard Way
He Thinks He’ll Keep Her
Flowers (Ian Hunter)
You Wreck Me (Tom Petty)
You Are With Me