Mary Chapin Carpenter and Corinne Bailey Rae

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WXPN’s NONCOMMvention was happening last week, which is, basically, a convention for Triple A (Adult Alternative Album) radio stations. While I did not have tickets to the main convention or the bigger musical acts, I was able to take advantage of the special free at noons that were happening and caught a double shot of Corinne Bailey Rae and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

I always thought that Corinne Bailey Rae was a jazz singer, but she was introduced as a singer songwriter. Hey, I am not going to complain about that. When she came on stage, I could not believe how adorable she was. She seriously looked 10 years younger than she did 10 years ago and later learned she was 37 (I would have lost serious money betting on her being only 14 years old). Anyway, she has a great voice and is so damn joyful while performing. Really, joy just completely emanated from her being. Her 4 piece backup band was top notch, but I just kept getting drawn to her peace and joy. And though her backup band was top notch, I really enjoyed her quieter songs where it was just her and her guitar. She looked most at peace during those songs, just a gal and her acoustic guitar. And I agree, she is way more of a singer songwriter than a jazz musician and vocalist. It was great to be reintroduced to her and I am looking forward to listening more in depth to her new album. She was a great primer for Mary Chapin Carpenter.

I listened to a lot of Mary Chapin Carpenter years ago, when I was going through my woman singer songwriter stage. I always found her to be understated and more focused on her music than being a huge super star. And this was underscored immediately. She was the headliner, but played her whole set with just a guitar and accompanied by a keyboardist and a mandolin/ guitarist player.

There was an immediate calmness that came over the room when she took the stage. She is just so calm and soothing. And so freaking cool. She is a 58-year-old woman, originally from Princeton New Jersey who was categorized by her record label as a country singer. You know, all the makings to becoming the next big thing (not!). She put out a string of albums in the late 80s and 90s and I remember listening to each and every one. And then one day, I didn’t anymore. I am not sure why, maybe I moved on to the next big thing.

Her songs all evoke a certain weariness. Not sure if it is weariness for the world in the general, weariness for being a 58-year-old singer songwriter, or weariness for other reasons; probably a combo of many things. However, there is also hope, love and optimism sprinkled throughout that weariness. To me, that is kind of the quintessential characteristic of a singer songwriter and why I am so drawn to that genre. You want realism, but you also want to know it gets better.   Sometimes the acoustic guitar between verses spoke more than the lyrics she would sing. You know the type, the type of music and lyrics that conveys deep, deep emotion. And when you listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter, the calmness I felt was “it is going to be all right.” I am not even sure I knew what was going wrong, but I knew it was going to be all right.

Besides still having that smoky calming voice, she is a great guitarist. She played it each and every song. And here is what I really liked about her. She seems so very grateful to be performing. Perhaps it is because she had a health scare in 2007 or has battled depression her whole life. But I observed that she thanked her roadie every single time he handed her a different guitar for her next song. Every single time. And, in her ½ hour set, she switched guitars every song. I can get behind that type of gratitude.

I spent this year discovering new music and trying different genres, I can’t help but think that I may have become a little out of touch with the music and musicians that made me such a music head in the first place. I am not really sure why I stopped listening to Marcy Chapin Carpenter, but I do know she will be right back in the mix as I start my next 50 years of music listening.

2 shows to go, 13 days left…