FEATURE MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER
Both have come out of the new country stable, but neither Mary Chapin Carpenter or Lyle Lovett let that stand in their way. As the singers begin a UK tour together, Kenny Mathieson ﬁnds Carpenter in the mood to bolt the stable.
he New Country phenomenon of the late 80$ introduced hordes of music- lovers to sounds they might never have bothered to hear, and brought the likes of k.d. lang and Nanci Grifﬁth into the limelight.
The melodic. literate singer-songwriter found a natural home under New Country’s broad umbrella, attracting a huge rock audience looking for something beyond the boundaries of post-punk indie pop or stadium rock bombast.
Both Mary Chapin Carpenter and Lyle Lovett, who tour the UK in a stellar double bill this month, came out of that New Country scene, but neither is limited to a country audience. Like Grifﬁth, Carpenter has pulled together a huge following from country, folk and rock — her last visit to Glasgow saw the sold out notices go up for two nights at the Concert Hall. Lovett has also made that crossover, with an even more esoteric musical blend which takes in all of those elements, and throws in a slice ofjazz into the bargain.
On the face of it, this is not an obvious combination on a double bill, especially since there is no mutual record company connection. As Carpenter explains, however, they go back quite a way.
‘Well, it came about simply because it was a time that suited both our schedules, and when the idea was put to me, it was an easy yes,’ she says. ‘We ﬁrst met up around ten years ago when [Lovett] came to Washington just after his ﬁrst album came out, and I called him and said, “please, my band wants to play with you”. We’ve been friends ever since, and I feel a great respect and kinship with his artistry.’
Although the show will feature both artists with their separate bands, Carpenter expects
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that they will do a feature together at some point in it. Her own band will be the unit which toured with her last year, but with the addition of her guitarist and co-producer John Jennings.
Her rise to success began modestly with her well-received debut album, Hometown Girl, in 1987, but it was her next effort, State Of The Heart (1989), which broke her on the national charts. Each of her succeeding records. Shooting Straight In The Dark (1990), Come On, Come On (1992), and Stones In The Road (1994), has increased her audience, not to mention her stockpile of CMA and Grammy awards.
The typical combination of rocking uptempo boogie tunes, strong story-telling, and reflective, sensitive ballads which has marked
‘I was a liberal arts junkie, and I thought I would get a job doing something in that world, but I never thought I’d be a musician.’
her work is repeated on her sixth album, A Place In The Dark, due out in the UK next month. She is now a major artist with an international following, but did she have a masterplan for world domination when she started out singing in local bars in Washington, DC?
‘God, no. I have to say I never thought it would happen,’ says Carpenter. ‘l was a liberal arts junkie, and l thought I would get a job doing something in that world, but I never thought I’d be a musician — I’m deﬁnitely one
' of those people who was in the right place at the
‘I wasn’t performing my own songs at ﬁrst, I suppose from a shyness on my part, and it was only after a couple of years that I got conﬁdent
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Country cousins: Mary Chapln Carpenter and ler lovett
enough or crazy enough to start doing them — I started slipping them in hoping that nobody would notice. Since then, though, I’ve never thought of myself as being able to separate the music from the writing — it’s a real big part of the expression for me.’
Carpenter has occasionally seemed a little uneasy with fame. At the same time, though, she has been able to put her profile to use in pursuing a number of issues and causes close to her heart. She has contributed an essay to a book celebrating the 75th anniversary of female suffrage in the USA, and has argued and performed on behalf of a number of causes in the ﬁelds ofthe environment, human rights. and intercultural understanding.
‘There are two separate things tied up in that issue of being famous — what I do as a musician is one sort of identity, and that feels very natural for me,’ says Carpenter. ‘When that then translates into being a public ﬁgure, I get a little confused at that point. because one doesn’t necessarily follow the other for me. The obligations of being known in the world can be quite pleasant, and other times they make me contort somewhat, so I’m not sure how I feel about it all the time.
‘What is important is to know thyself, and not let the things which feel unauthentic get in the way. As far as my commitment is concerned, I think it’s entirely feasible to merge what you believe in as a human being on this earth with the sense of purpose that you have in what you do professionally, and that’s been borne out for me by experience. I’ve never felt it’s hurt my career to be involved in the causes I’ve been involved in.’
Mary Chapin Carpenter and The Lyle Lovett Big Band are at the SEC C, Glasgow on Tue 24 Sept.