THE Americana-country scene, based in Nashville Tennessee, spawns a seemingly endless supply of singer-songwriters, many of whom tour the UK visiting everything from the stadium circuit to county and town-fringe pubs as they make their names.
Some, like Gretchen Peters, made an immediate hit with British audiences who have remained faithful over the years. She’s back in the UK for her second 2016 tour.
Another is Mary Chapin Carpenter, although she has never been a “Nashville act”. Born and raised in and around Washington DC, hers was a different path, and a brilliantly successful one. Her mellow voice and thoughtful lyrics have won fans around the world.
There’s something in an MCC song for everyone who has loved, has lost, has lost patience, has mourned parents or has wondered at the folly of humankind. She headlined the Bristol Colston Hall American Weekend, took a short break in Bath and drove to Salisbury via Stonehenge, before visiting Salisbury Cathedral to take in its unique atmosphere.
Then it was on to the stage at the City Hall to play songs from the last century, and songs from the new album to a packed audience.
Guest group for the tour is Applewood Road, a trio of women, two American and one Australian, who discovered at a cafe in East Nashville just how well their voices went together. They opened at Salisbury with some beautiful harmonies and memorable songs, notably Losing My Religion.
Then it was time for Mary Chapin, and for long time fans the inevitable sadness at the lack of her musical collaborator. guitarist and arranger John Jones, who died last year. Her tribute from the new album, Livingston, brought it all home, to her and his many fans in the audience.
During her career, she told the audience, she has released about one album every three years. Now she’s older, the latest, The Things We are Made Of, took a year longer. It has been worth the wait.
The new album contains some of her best songs in years. She sang Oh Rosetta, her tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, with its refrain:
“If the world is offered love but doesn’t use it
Oh Rosetta, what’s it for?”
and dedicated it to the people of Nice. In these frightening, insecure days it’s sometimes hard to hold back tears.
But then there was a stripped down version of Lucinda Williams’s Passionate Kisses, and Mary Chapin’s own Shut Up and Kiss Me to encourage the audience that there is always hope, underlined by the title track. And old favourites including This Shirt, with its indelible image of the birth of kittens.
As always, she demonstrated that magic trick of bringing the audience into her world as she entered theirs, with songs that touch the brain, the heart and the soul. Thanks.