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It's no miracle, Carpenter ages well

Wilbur Theatre, Boston, August 18, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Mary Chapin Carpenter has aged well. Her slightly smoky, deep voice remains intact. So does a plethora of excellent material that has served her well since releasing "Hometown Girl" in 1987.

And it was that she brought on this evening with a 20-song set that seemed about split between singer/songwriter mellow music and the high energy hits. Carpenter went for a mid-tempo pace at the outset, starting with A Keeper For Every Flame from "Stones in The Road" where her voice was front and center, as it was most of the night. "Beautiful Racket, On And On It Goes and Houston followed sending the show into slower motion, a bit too soon.

Carpenter finally picked up the pace with The Way I Feel from last year's highly commendable "The Age of Miracles" before going into the very heartfelt Stones in the Road.

Unfortunately, Carpenter only played two more songs from "The Age of Miracles," the excellent "Mrs. Hemingway," a well-written piece about Ernest Hemingway's wife, which drew a deservedly big hand and We Traveled So Far.

She offered one new song in between - Don't Need Much to Be Happy emphasizing the need not to be materialistic to find joy in life.

But with that, the rest of the show pretty much turned into a greatest hits package from the excellent rendering of Passionate Kisses and Feel Lucky to the closing of the three-song encore He Thinks He'll Keep Her.

The songs have stood the test of time, but Carpenter would have been better advised to mix up the old and new instead of clumping them together because it felt almost obligatory for her to sing the hits, instead of working them into set.

Carpenter has a very comfortable band - high on quality - spearheaded by guitarist John Jennings. Bassist Don Dixon and drummer Vinny Santoro form a sturdy rhythm section, while Jon Carroll on keyboard and local boy Jim Henry on guitar and Dobro added their skills.

They are a well-oiled machine, filling in the gaps, taking some leads and an occasional excursion here and there. However, it was almost too tight. It would have been nice for Carpenter to give the band more of a free hand in playing out more. They have the chops - let them play.

This wasn't a perfect concert from Carpenter, but at this stage in her career, Carpenter still has a lot to say about life and sings it well.

Eliza Gilkyson, a folk singer with rootsy elements, opened with a good 35-minute acoustic set. With a sense of humor about her (although one got the sense she uses the same lines every night), Gilkyson received a very positive response from the crowd.