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No problem as Carpenter, Colvin leave bands home

North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie, Ill., October 8, 2013

Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

Other recent concert reviews
Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter pulled up their chairs on the stage, got out their guitars and serenaded a packed house for two hours; just these two women and their guitars, singing and trading barbs about their nights on the road on the current tour and bantering about the nature of songwriting.

"We've been friends for 30 years," Carpenter said as she introduced the evening, "but we've never done a tour together. So, we left our bands at home and have been on the road now for about a year and a half. We get to hang out in each other's rooms, and we're trying to be as irreverent as possible in this celebration of friendship and music, and so tonight we're going to be playing songs we love, both ours and others."

The show opened very simply and elegantly, when the two troubadours came out on stage and joined their crystalline voices on a gorgeous version of Donovan's old folk chestnut, Catch the Wind. Carpenter's lower vocal range provided the perfect harmony counterpoint for Colvin's soaring high voice, and Colvin's rhythm guitar provided a solid foundation off of which Carpenter could reel her finger-picking style.

After the opening song, Colvin had some momentary trouble with her guitar, but ever the show woman, she joked her way through the crisis.

This was the night to hear Colvin and Carpenter perform familiar songs, as the singers took turns playing one of their own songs, sometimes joined by the other and sometimes not. Carpenter, whose picking style produces cascading notes that weave under the rhythm she's playing, opened with her tribute to an item of clothing, This Shirt, that had seen her through thick and thin.

Colvin stepped out next to deliver her thumping rhythm guitar on her song, Diamond in the Rough. In a call and response style, with their voices weaving in and around each other, the two stood up and delivered the Greg Brown-penned One Cool Remove. The two then traded tunes, with Colvin singing All Fall Down followed by Carpenter's He Thinks He'll Keep Her in which she retained the lines "now she's in the typing pool/for minimum wage" that she sometimes changes in performance to "now she's in the swimming pool/sipping lemonade."

About halfway through, the two bantered back and forth about the ways they write songs. They traded laughs about belonging to the secret society of singer songwriters, which required writers to include certain lines, such as "and the rain came a-tumblin' down" in every song.

They laughed as they said they were about to be thrown out of the secret society because the next song - a rousing version of Steve Earle's Someday - didn't include the line, though Carpenter cleverly threw it in at the end of the song.

Carpenter admitted that she was more of a song walker, who gets her best ideas as she walks the grounds of her mountain home; Colvin said she is a song dreamer and that songs often come to her in her dreams.

The set ended with Carpenter's The Hard Way, but the crowd wouldn't let the two leave. Carpenter and Colvin opened their five-song encore with an infectious rendition of The Beatles' I'll Be Back. Colvin then hinted that they'd played nice folk songs, but sometimes you just need to hear a murder ballad and launched into her tale of abuse and revenge Sonny Came Home. With guitars playing around and under each other and with haunting and piercing vocals, the pair slid through Riding Shotgun Down the Avalanche.

Carpenter took off on her I Feel Lucky in which she admitted that Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakam don't "blow up her dress anymore," and if she were writing the song today, Alan Rickman would be the guy in bar with his hand on her leg. The duo closed the evening much as they began, by lending their gorgeous voices to a familiar song. Channeling the Johnny Rodriguez version of Lefty Frizell's That's the Way Love Goes, the two showed why this is one of country music's most beautiful songs.

Carpenter and Colvin should leave their bands at home more often.