Creating a living room ambiance in a concert hall is quite a trick but Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin did their best to pull it off at their gig Friday night. There was no backup band to drape the songs in fulsome arrangements, just a pair of Grammy Award winning singer/songwriters delving into material they’d written and covering songs by people they admired.
A big factor in the success of the concert (billed as “A Celebration of Friendship and Music”) was the appeal of two longtime friends playing pleasant tunes, talking about songwriting and personal lives while yanking each other’s chains with lovingly cushioned insults.
It was just the sort of thing that could happen if a pair of your talented buddies were spinning tales and picking guitars in your very own parlor. In this case, the venue was host to a near capacity audience that consistently rewarded the performers with applause and laughter.
They began the evening with a pleasant cover of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” and then set the stage by referring to the concert as “a celebration of enduring friendship and music.”
Carpenter, who was added to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame last year, has a lower vocal range that blends perfectly with Colvin’s somewhat higher voice. When the two of them sang duets, the harmonies were right on the money but they spent most of the evening singing solo or backing each other up.
The setlist was a fairly eclectic one. They would play a couple cover tunes and then refer back to something that Carpenter or Colvin wrote, talking about the art of songwriting and how difficult it was to create lyrics that would mesh well with a tune.
While Carpenter evidently approaches the process with a focused attention to detail, Colvin admitted to looking for “the free ones”, the songs that spring from pen to paper via “inspiration.” When Carpenter can’t work through the challenge at home, she does what she called “songwalking” – taking the dogs out for a walk. This is in contrast to Colvin, who talked about trying to remember a melody from a dream and discovering upon awakening that it just wasn’t as good as she’d hoped it would be.
Still, the songs each of them wrote and performed that night was proof that they’ve done well. Carpenter’s country music hits like “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and the more reflective title song from her latest album “Ashes and Roses” displayed an intellect that was bitingly funny and deeply sensitive at the same time. Colvin’s take on tunesmithing was often a bit more pop oriented and energetic; songs like “Sunny Came Home” (which she referred to as a “murder ballad”) and “Shotgun Down the Avalanche” generated applause from her fan base before the first few notes had finished ringing through the hall.
The cover tunes like the aforementioned “Catch the Wind” reflected music that both Carpenter and Colvin admired and/or liked to sing. Crowded House’s “Four Seasons in One Day,” Tom Waits’ “Hold On,” John Hiatt’s “It All Comes Back Someday” and the John Lennon/Paul McCartney classic “I’ll Be Back” all benefitted from ear-catching riffs and interesting lyrics – just the sort of thing that Carpenter, Colvin, and the evening’s audience loved.