in performance: mary chapin carpenter

mary chapin carpenter.

Time seemed quite the preoccupation for Mary Chapin Carpenter last night at Equus Run Vineyards. Her sterling 90 minute performance often referenced time as a commodity continually slipping away. She recognized songs from her catalog that were country hits 25 years ago (specifically, her cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses”) as well as band members that have clocked tenures on the upwards of three decades (specifically, keyboardist Jon Carroll). Both mentions casually paralleled the passage of time as it related to age. Then again, Carpenter wasn’t always obvious when making her point.

For example, she opened a concert centered largely on elegantly reserved and introspective folk-pop with a protest song – in this case, Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” a tune born in 1964 that still speaks with eerie relevancy. But the topicality was underscored when Carpenter followed with her own “Stones in the Road,” a work, recorded at the dawn of the Clinton era that looked uneasily back the Reagan/Bush years that preceded it. Though more poetic that overtly political, any sense of fleeting time vanished when the singer updated a verse with a quip about a statesmen whose sense of social remedy is revealed when he “posts another tweet.” So much for nostalgia.

On second thought, the performance was loaded with familiar Carpenter songs, from chronicles that balanced poignancy and melancholy (“This Shirt,” “The Age of Miracles” and the exquisite “Goodnight America”) with a delicate lyricism that still proved sturdy enough to buoy her low, hushed singing. But the show’s poppish feel nicely accelerated when Carpenter and her four member band dug into the spunkier drive of “Shut Up and Kiss Me” and Dire Straits’ “The Bug.”

The most direct commentary on the passage of time, however, came from perhaps the evening’s least familiar work – a tune from Carpenter’s recent “The Things That We Are Made Of” album called “The Middle Ages.” Performed with whispery grace, the song’s timeline was more personal than historical with a snapshot that both begrudgingly and lovingly focused on mid life. More exactly, it was a song of arrival and realization.

“Now you see what it is that you would have changed if only you’d known,” Carpenter sang.

The times, it seemed, aren’t all that have been a-changin.’

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