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Mary Chapin Carpenter heading to Englert in Iowa City
Grammy-winning singer/songwriter touring with new album
Jul. 7, 2022 2:05 am
Part way into the pandemic in 2020, Mary Chapin Carpenter wanted to find ways to stay creative, connect with fans and get some music out into the world at a time when concerts weren’t happening and albums were being put on hold.
One way she accomplished this goal was with her “Songs from Home” series, in which she filmed solo performances from her kitchen of songs from her catalog and by other artists — sometimes with guest appearances by her golden retriever and “producer” Angus, and her cat, White Kitty. Every week or so, fans could tune in online and see a fresh performance of a song.
It was all quite casual, fun and genuine, and gave fans a bit of a window into Carpenter’s world at home.
Another project meant to provide some solace and entertainment during the pandemic, however, was not so spontaneous or modestly produced.
If you go
What: Mary Chapin Carpenter, with Emily Baker opening
Where: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
When: 7:30 p.m. July 15, 2022
Tickets: $20 to $65, ci.ovationtix.com/36399; $1 of every ticket supports the Domestic Violence Intervention Program in Iowa City
Artist’s website: marychapincarpenter.com/
In November 2020, Carpenter and a crew, while carefully following protocols to avoid getting infected with COVID, filmed an entire concert at one of Carpenter’s favorite venues, the Wolf Trap’s Filene Center in Vienna, Va. That show has been released on DVD and CD and titled “One Night Lonely.”
“I just had this idea of wanting to not only keep putting music out there in the form of a concert, but also have it be, understandably, a document of the times that we were in,” Carpenter said in a recent phone interview.
“So making it abundantly clear that there were no people in the audience (was important), and there was no need in my mind to have patter between songs. It would have been actually kind of ridiculous, I think, to be speaking to no one. But (I wanted to) film it with totally sort of world-class production and beautiful lighting and the beautiful stage that Wolf Trap has at the Filene Center.”
At 26 songs, it’s a generous set that encompasses nearly the entirety of Carpenter’s three-decade-plus career. It also presents her music in a format she had yet to represent on her albums — solo acoustic.
Carpenter has played solo concerts over the years and often has included solo acoustic segments in shows she performs with a band. But the Filene Center performance was a unique experience, she said.
“It felt very weird on the one hand, but also there was a comfort in doing it because that’s what I’ve been doing for so many years,” she said. “Also, I was really just determined to get through it. There were no retakes, it was all live. There’s nothing spliced together (afterward). It was from the first song to the last song.
“And I remember, as I was playing the last song, the weight of it felt, my God, I’ve been up here for two hours plus or whatever. It was exhausting in the moment, but at the same time, it was getting very, very cold on stage. I could see my breath on the last couple of songs and my hands were getting cold and fingers were freezing.
“It was an unusual experience all the way through,” she said. “But at the same time, it felt just very magical, and all of the people who were a part of the production and had worked so hard to pull it off, everyone just stayed safe and no one got sick. That was really gratifying.”
The solo acoustic performances on “One Night Lonely” allow the melodicism of Carpenter’s songs to shine and put an even bigger spotlight on her thoughtful lyrics as well as her underappreciated skills as a guitarist. The set leans decidedly toward her more serious and meditative material.
Playful hits like “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” “Down at the Twist and Shout” and “Passionate Kisses” aren’t performed, and the lightest song is arguably “I Take My Chances,” a breezy song with some serious thoughts about Carpenter’s approach to life.
A five-time Grammy winner who has sold a combined 12 million albums, Carpenter, 64, debuted on the national scene with her 1987 album “Hometown Girl.”
Early on, her label, Columbia Records, marketed Carpenter as a country artist, even though her music also had elements of folk, rock and pop. That said, the plan worked.
Her third album, 1990’s “Shooting Straight in the Dark,” gave her a breakthrough country hit with “Down at the Twist and Shout,” and then the follow-up album, “Come On Come On,” made Carpenter a major star. The album spawned four Top 10 country hits — “Passionate Kisses” (a Lucinda Williams song), “I Feel Lucky,” “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and “I Take My Chances” — on the way to going quadruple platinum.
Carpenter’s next album, “Stones in the Road,” was another hit and featured her first chart-topping country single, “Shut Up and Kiss Me.”
Since then, Carpenter has maintained the quality of her songwriting, while crafting a more ballad-oriented sound on her eight subsequent studio albums. The hit singles have dried up, but Carpenter remains a popular concert draw. She’ll be performing July 15 at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City.
“The Dirt and the Stars,” Carpenter’s most recent studio album, is well represented on “One Night Lonely,” as she performs the songs “All Broken Hearts Break Differently,” “Traveler’s Prayer,” the title cut and “Farther Along and Further In” (the latter being the song that opens “The Dirt and the Stars” and sets for tone for the album).
“That song in particular, it was important to me to have it open the record because I do think it sort of states a theme that runs throughout the record, which is just the wisdom that comes with growing older and everything that goes into that,” Carpenter said.
She traveled to Bath, England, and Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios to record “The Dirt and the Stars.” She also recorded her 2018 album, “Sometimes The Sky,” there.
“Everything about it is magical and world class, and just a unique place to be creative,” she said of the facility.
As she usually does, Carpenter didn’t share her songs with the musicians until it was time to go to work at the studio. This fosters a collaborative environment for the proceedings.
“I have a way of doing it, which is I play the song for everyone just by myself,” she said. “An arrangement sort of evolves and reveals itself. ... Everybody brings their own ideas to it, and in the end, it just kind of comes together.”
This summer’s extensive tour will give Carpenter her first opportunity to showcase songs from “The Dirt and the Stars” in a full-band setting. She was set to tour last year with Shawn Colvin before a shoulder injury forced her to drop out of the tour.
Carpenter thinks she’s recovered, but noted there’s only one way to know for sure.
“It’s kind of hard to know until you’re right in the middle of it, playing every night and sort of testing it that way,” she said. “I spent the past year doing physical therapy and trying to build my strength up in my arms, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Exactly what songs fans will hear on a given night will vary, as Carpenter plans to change up her set list from show to show.
“We’ll move the pieces around like a chess board and fiddle with it, for nearly every night. I’m sort of changing things around,” she said. “There’s just not enough time (in a show) to play all of the songs I want to play. I guess that at this point in my life, it’s something to be happy about instead of feeling like it’s a detriment.”