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Mary Chapin Carpenter at fearless best roaring out message to women

Mary Chapin Carpenter. St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

By Suzanne Breen

Mary Chapin Carpenter appeared on stage in St Anne’s Cathedral like a dark angel, dressed from head to toe in black, to deliver a luminous performance for a devoted congregation.

“We couldn’t have hoped for a more beautiful place,” Chapin Carpenter declared.

The exquisite surroundings, combined with the haunting beauty of her voice, made this an unforgettable experience for those of us privileged to be there.

The Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter was in town on Saturday night courtesy of the Out to Lunch Arts festival.

No-one knows the human heart better, and Chapin Carpenter’s luscious yet simply crafted songs reflected on the “dreams discarded and dreams distilled” of middle age.

‘Something Tamed, Something Wild’ from her new album ‘The Things That We Are Made Of’ set the mood as she rummages through a shoebox of old letters, “each one was like a diamond, now the jewel is lost to time”.

These are songs speaking to a generation whose exchanges ran deeper than 140 character tweets and Whatsapp chat.

‘Note on a Windshield’ conveys the yearning created by catching a glimpse in a parking lot of a man who may be an ex-lover, and the dilemma of whether to drive on or to act.

“I live in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, kind of in the middle of nowhere and I like it that way,” Chapin Carpenter told us, and these songs come from contemplating life on the porch at dusk.

But there was plenty of bite too. If there were Donald Trump supporters in the pews, she didn’t care, with references to the “freak show back home” and worse.

The barbs against the new US president worked best when they were subtly playful. In the old version of ‘I Feel Lucky’, the then hottest men in country music — Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakam — are fighting over her. But in the lyrics on Saturday night, Chapin Carpenter had “Donald Trump right beside me with his hand upon my thigh”.

Some of the new songs, Oh Rosetta and Livingston, didn’t work for me, nor did the slowed down, more tender version of her old hit, ‘Passionate Kisses’. This is a song to be delivered loud and bold.

Such were the freezing conditions inside St Anne’s Cathedral that people retained their gloves, scarves and hats throughout the concert.

And despite the beauty of the songs of retrospection, it was when Chapin Carpenter upped the tempo that she connected with her congregation. Perhaps we were too cold to be sad for so long.

It was her feminist anthem, ‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her’ and ‘I Take My Chances’ that brought the audience alive.

“I never learned nothing from playing it safe, I say fate should not tempt me,” roared Chapin Carpenter at her fearless best. A message for women of all generations.

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