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Carpenter returns to form

Berklee Performance Center, Boston, June 27, 2010

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Mary Chapin Carpenter had been out of action for a long time. She was slated to tour behind her last album, "The Calling,' three years ago, but then life got in the way in the form of pulmonary embolism, knocking out most of her touring that year.

Apparently, she has used the time since then quite wisely as she released the excellent CD, "The Age of Miracles," earlier this year and launched her first tour in three years about a week ago. Mixing the fine new songs and old, Carpenter has not any lost any of her luster in the intervening years.

Carpenter strode out with acoustic guitar, playing solo on We Traveled So Far gradually adding the other band members to flesh out the sound more and more. This was perhaps indicative of how the rest of the 90-minute gig would go. Carpenter was not merely replicating what is down on the silver platter whether older numbers, such as the hit, Down at the Twist and Shout, or songs from "The Age of Miracles."

Instead, she mixed it up musically with her voice always heard above the music.

While in her heyday, Carpenter was billed as a country artist, she is more of singer/songwriter type (although the fact of the matter is her style of music would pass for what is played on country radio today). Thanks to songs like, the bouncy I Put My Ring Back On and Mrs. Hemingway, Carpenter ably demonstrated that her new material is up to snuff.

And older songs like one of her favorites, Halley Came to Jackson and Passionate Kisses, were no worse from wear.

Carpenter was more than ably backed by her quartet, including very longstanding sidekicks Jon Carroll on piano and keyboards and John Jennings on guitar. Local resident Jim Henry on guitar and mandolin lent good support. Don Dixon was on bass with Vinny Santoro keeping a steady beat on drums, though a bit loud on a song or two.

Carpenter was not afraid to use her band either as she did not need to hot the spotlight to make for effective music. For only a week into the tour, the band sure sounded cohesive and integrated.

About the only unfortunate aspect was that Carpenter was up against an 11 p.m. curfew at the great sounding concert hall, which meant that the concert was cut short. A few songs on the sett list , He thinks He'll Keep Her and The Hard Way never made it off the paper. That's too bad because particularly after this long an absence, more of Carpenter would have been most welcome.

Madeleine Peyroux opened with a 65-minute set that was strong on jazz and bluesy songs. Peyroux was strongest on the bluesy songs where both she and her band let it rip far more. When they went for jazz sounds, it sounded very competent and struck a good vibe, albeit one that tended to sound a bit similar after awhile.

Peyroux performed a healthy amount of her own good material, such as Bare Bones, while also covering Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Peyroux worked best when she gave herself more freedom vocally.