MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER
ROYAL CONCERT HALL, GLASGOW
Reviewed by Mark Brown
American singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter is almost as well known for her humanitarian work and her political activism as for her music. It came as little surprise, therefore, that she took the opportunity, early in her set at Glasgow’s massive Celtic Connections music festival, to share her feelings about the first 10 days of the Trump administration.
Following early outings for Why Walk When You Can Fly? and Something Tamed, Something Wild, she explained her choice of opening numbers. “I wanted to start with two songs of hope and resilience”, she said, “to counter-balance the freak show going on back home.” A comment that elicited considerable approval from her Scottish audience.
There would be more commentary on the new President as the show progressed. Little lyrical innovations, referring to Trump’s penchant for tweeting and his well-publicised attitudes to women, found their way into established songs from the 58-year-old’s voluminous back catalogue.
If this performance is any indication, Chapin Carpenter’s anger at her new Commander-in-Chief has galvanised her, rather than put her off her stride. Supported by an excellent three-piece band , she played a set that reflected her influences, from country to rock ‘n’ roll and blues, with tremendous warmth and assuredness.
Her songs have always combined thoughtful autobiography with a broader, humanistic sensibility. Nowhere were these elements more evident than in the recently recorded Oh Rosetta, a gentle and reflective conversation with her heroine Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the great African American singer-songwriter and guitarist.
In addition to tracks from last year’s album The Things That We Are Made Of, there were warmly received renderings of old favourites such as I Feel Lucky and Shut Up and Kiss Me. The affection of the Celtic Connections crowd for Chapin Carpenter was both palpable and reciprocated.
That said, the audience had already been well warmed up by two excellent support acts from the Scottish and Irish traditional music scenes. Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis and her band performed a sparkling and charming set, before making way for justly acclaimed Irish group Altan.
Chapin Carpenter takes the name of the festival very literally, she tells us. All the better to invite her Celtic friends Fowlis and Altan back on stage for a suitably up-beat encore of her 1992 hit He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.
The Celtic Connections festival continues until February 5. For more information, visit: celticconnections.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on February 8, 2017
© Mark Brown