Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Mary Chapin Carpenter , Grand Opera House, Belfast

With passion and wit, Mary makes night a real hoedown

From the American troubadour tradition that gave us the likes of Emmylou Harris, and indeed the pocket dynamo tradition that gave us Dolly Parton, Mary Chapin Carpenter makes a welcome return to the fray after a brush with mortality caused by a pulmonary embolism in 2007.

As befits someone with a degree in American civilisation, she welcomed each member of her band on stage with a stately bow, making the now compulsory eulogy on the exquisite decor of the Opera House, before she and her band served up a sumptuous dish of pop-tinged country music.

This was effortless stuff, from the high end stomp of Passionate Kisses to the more subtle, Costello-ish texture of Naked To The Eye, delivered with verve and not a little humour, as Mary paused to give her considered opinion of the likes of Sarah Palin — “She's a w****r” — a line delivered with the relish of a lover of words discovering a new one to play with.

What separates Carpenter from many of her contemporaries is the range of subject matter, especially in newer material, from Tiananmen Square in 1989 to Mrs Hemingway, a striking waltz-time evocation of Americans in Paris seen through the eyes of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife.

There were plenty of opportunities for a hoedown in which the band could let rip, achy, breaky Shut Up And Kiss Me being a prime example on a night that neatly summed up the artist’s pop sensibilities and a social conscience which in less skilled hands could have appeared mawkish.

Michael Conaghan

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