Despite their extensive careers there’s something almost naive about Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin as they enter the stage holding hands. Though their performance is tight it’s also raw, removing the rehearsed edge that some shows carry and instead conveying the emotion of their songs. Stripped back to just acoustic guitars, they alternate songs, showcasing each of their voices in turn.
Mary Chapin Carpenter’s latest album (Ashes and Roses) felt like it was often veering heavily towards a ravine of depression, but live she gives context to the themes. With What To Keep And What To Throw Away she perfectly exemplifies this, and as she talks so honestly about the emotional process of packaging up her ex-husbands personal belongings from her house it’s easy to understand why she sometimes looks a little uncomfortable and exposed on the stage. By the end of the night it’s clear that she’s simply captured more of the anguish that goes with divorce and other life changing events, and it’s this resultant honesty which becomes her charm.
Meanwhile Shawn Colvin places more emphasis on her earlier works, despite this year’s release of All Fall Down. Songs like Trouble and Diamond In The Rough are met with applause in the opening bars with the ending of the latter building to a crescendo, giving lift to the song. Meanwhile the Martin Luther King inspired, That Don’t Worry Me Now, is boosted by simple acoustic arrangements.
Nevertheless, it’s the duets on the cover songs which really make the night. Their voices blend in perfect harmony and no where is this more apparent than on their cover of Greg Brown’s One Cool Remove, which sounds every bit as vibrant as their first recording. Elsewhere, covers of Crowded House’s Four Seasons In One Day and Paul Simon’s The Only Living Boy In New York are re imagined, becoming more sombre than the original versions.
Though deliberately stripped back, tonight doesn’t quite captivate me the way I’d hoped. Whilst it’s heart warming, and without a doubt a display of two of the finest folk musicians around, somehow the venue seems too sparse to carry such a subtle show. Had the venue been more akin to Union Chapel, their endearing, and at times, slightly nervous performance (tuning issues included) would have connected more with the crowd. Instead we’re left with a bit of gulf, the show never quite reaching a satisfying peak.
Photos © Jo Cox and must not be reproduced without prior consent