Totally Biased Fan Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter at The Enmore Theatre, Sydney, Australia, 27th August


It should not be a secret to anyone who follows my posts that Mary Chapin Carpenter is my favourite International Country Music female artist. She has been my favourite for a long time. Yes, I love Reba, Trisha, Emmylou, Iris, Lee Ann, Loretta and many others, but Mare has always been my favourite. I think that there is something about her songwriting and her deep tones that just fit with me. It is more than that, but that is a start.

I own every album that she has ever produced. Now, I own the t-shirt, and I finally got to see her after years of trying to see her.

Before I discuss Mary, or at least try to find the words to do her justice, I must mention Tift Merritt. Tift was Mary’s support, a leading artist in the States and perhaps not so well known in Australia. Many of my musician friends told me that I would love her, that they couldn’t wait to see her at Gympie and I had to confess my ignorance about her.

What a delight Tift was. Apart from a Tom Waits’ song, which was terrific, she sang her own stuff with an honourable mention to Raymond Carver….I think that I was about the only one in the audience who knew who Raymond Carver was….what a geek, I am.

Tift was funny too, with her pronunciation of Woolloomooloo (twice), her tale of being attacked by the world’s biggest pigeon and apologies for her back to the people on the side of the stage as she played the piano. Her music and her interesting voice which varied with every song and her jetlagged guitar which she “stole from someone”, made for memorable moments. She was very personable and genuine. She may have lost a few of the crowd when she compared North Carolina and South Carolina with Australia and New Zealand, but she was probably right!

Now to Mary. How can I put it into words? Once in a lifetime experience? Everything that I dreamed that it would be? Every song a precious jewel which I have always treasured, presented to me on a silver platter?

She delivered her songs with humour sometimes, pathos with others. She delivered them with a few hiccoughs, which had nothing to do with her. My musician friends would understand this more, but the monitors weren’t working. She quipped that she was playing the guitar using Braille. She hoped that we could hear her guitar, because she couldn’t. It would be a thing that would faze a lot of people, it didn’t faze Mary. She went on to say that “The Beatles never had monitors.” She commented that if there was fireworks back stage that she may have to tell jokes all night….but that wouldn’t work.

In the audience, there was tissues and tears. She sang most of her hits, leaving He thinks he’ll keep her til the encore with a new song off her upcoming album. She didn’t sing Come On, Come On or a few others that I thought that she might have sung, but she sang Why Walk When You Can Fly, The Hard Way, Passionate Kisses (Paying homage to Lucinda Williams with one of the funniest muso’ stories that I have ever heard), I Feel Lucky (with mention of Dwight and Lyle afterwards), I take my chances, Only a Dream, When Time Stands Still and many others.

With 17 albums to her credit and one to come soon, it is hard to sing everything. If she hadn’t sung He thinks he’ll keep her, she may have had a mutiny on her hands.

Mary Chapin Carpenter has been through a lot. As she said she went through a divorce, her dad dying and a serious illness all in a short space of time and dealing with one of those things would have been tough but all three? Fodder for songs, though as well, getting back with her friends and keeping busy, helped her through it. She once described her album “Ashes and Roses” as ”a journey from darkness into light.”

People who say that they don’t like country music, say that they love Mary Chapin Carpenter. Her sound is unique. She doesn’t sing like anybody else, her songs are her own but they could resonate with most everyday people at one time or another. She has never wanted to be pigeon holed into any type of music, harbouring influences from many sources from her parents’ collections of folk music legends like Woody Guthrie to 60’s music like The Beatles, Dylan, The Mamas and The Papas, etc. Her 5 Grammys and many Country Music accolades say a lot. She is very well respected amongst her peers and she has a faithful and loyal audience.

She joked about her memory loss, explaining in a roundabout fashion that it was convenient sometimes. She had a line for everything, with you believing that she was just chatting to you in her living room rather than being there on the stage in front of you.

Her music could stand alone, without the wonderful banter and down to earth, genuine appeal of Mary Chapin Carpenter, but the experience was enhanced by it. She didn’t need fancy videos or flashing lights or a massive band – she had two wonderful musicians in a stripped back performance – she didn’t need them thar fancy things.

I really can’t find the words. I am trying to, but I can’t. Everything I seem to think of seems very lame. If you have a chance to see and hear Mary anywhere, go and do it. If you don’t understand what I am feeling when I wax lyrical, then I really can’t help you, maybe a therapist can! It was a beautiful experience…..the wait was worth it and then some.

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