Written by James Killen

It seems a bit hard to believe that Mary Chapin Carpenter has been touring for 30 years. Houston was lucky to have her choose to celebrate this 30 years on the road by performing at the intimate Heights Theater to an understandably sold out house. She is touring behind the release of a new disc, “Sometimes Just the Sky”, the title cut of which was inspired by a Patti Smith quote.

Touring with Mary this go-round is an all lady combo called Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards, also touring after a new disc called “California Calling”. The Cards’ sound strikes a pose someplace between a string quartet and a bluegrass band. They sing in some fine harmony as demonstrated on a gentle acapella piece, but they and can go from zero to sixty in no time flat on their violins, cello and bass. They were just the act to warm up this audience in anticipation of the main act’s arrival.

When Mary Chapin Carpenter took the stage, she did so with an extremely talented band, consisting of long time Carpenter collaborator, Jon Carroll on piano, Knoxville guitarist, Johnny Duke, producer, Don Dixon of Chapel Hill, NC on bass, and drummer, Nate Barnes. She led off with a song of empowerment, “Why Shouldn’t We”, followed by “Why Walk When You Can Fly” and the title track of her Grammy winning album, “Stones in the Road.”

Carpenter’s new disc is a bit deeper and more pensive than many of her compositions and she performed “The Moon and St. Christopher” and “Naked to the Eye” from that production next before giving the crowd another tried and true hit, Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses”. She followed that with another popular cover, Dire Straits’ “the Bug”. Then she pulled two more from “Sometimes Just the Sky”, “This Shirt” and “This is Love”.

Of course as long as she was in town, Mary had to play the Hurricane Katrina inspired “Houston”. The band really kicked in for a rousing version of “Shut Up and Kiss Me” with Duke throwing down some fine slide parts while Carroll offered up a Zevon-esque piano riff. Mary kept the pace at full tilt for “I Feel Lucky” and Duke and Barnes really rocked through “I Take my Chances”.

Throughout the evening Ms. Carpenter took advantage of the cozy venue to converse with the crowd. She answered questions about day to day life as a songster and offered little insights into the songs. Mary and company ended the regular set with “He Thinks He’ll keep Her” and “Sometimes Just the Sky”.

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards, joined Mary and the band for the encore of “Down at the Twist and Shout” with Laura on fiddle and Duke breaking out a U2 style lead for “The Hard Way” while the Dance Cards …well… danced.

Mary Chapin Carpenter brought an amazing evening of entertainment to the stage on this occasion, offering a wonderful mixture of old and new. She managed to get all five of her Grammy winning songs out there for the fans while introducing her new material. At the center of the entertainment is her rare talent at song writing. Sometimes a person has the ability to see the world with a unique perspective. Sometimes that person has been given the gift to express that perspective with a unique talent. Mary Chapin Carpenter is that sort of a talented artist.

Sometimes church bells, trees and seasons marking times gone by.

Sometimes starling swells and tidal moons and filled up eyes.

Sometimes everything at once, but sometimes just the sky.

  • Patti Smith