Jubilee: Live at Wolf Trap (DVD)

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Columbia Music Video, 1995

http://www.marychapincarpenter.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/07/2014

[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on April 30, 1996]

Another trendy thing to do these days is to put out a concert video while the fans are waiting for your new studio album. When you're an artist like Mary Chapin Carpenter, though—a tremendous performer with five albums’ worth of high-quality material never before recorded live—this qualifies not as an asterisk in your musical catalog, but as a major event.

Carpenter has been one of an increasing number of anomalies in the country world over the past decade—an artist who chose the country idiom and the Nashville/Memphis milieu for their music without ever surrendering to its cliches or, seemingly, to any of its boundaries at all. Truth be told, Carpenter’s music would be as much at home in the “folk-pop” category as in “country.” A gifted confessional songwriter with a literate ear, a clever mind and a warmly feminist viewpoint, Carpenter spins emotionally tangled tales that resonate. The forthright intelligence of her lyrics is startling sometimes—I mean, how many singers in any mainstream musical genre could use the word "perilous" in a song and have it sound just right? my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Live At Wolf Trap finds Carpenter in fine voice, which is to say it shouldn't be missed, because there are hardly superlatives enough to describe her honey-smooth tone and masterfully true delivery. In one of the interviews sprinkled throughout this two-hour video, her collaborator/co-producer/guitarist John Jennings calls her voice “an invitation to intimacy,” and in songs like “Come On Come On,” you hear exactly what he means. Carpenter doesn't just paint a picture with words; she draws you into herself, exposing her innermost feelings with such unpretentious honesty and self-deprecating humor that she completely disarms any listener willing to give her the chance.

Her performance here, coming on the heels of 199#’s terrific Stones In The Road album, covers all the right ground, from rocking hits like “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and “I Feel Lucky” to gorgeous acoustic numbers like “Only a Dream” and “John Doe No. 24” to terrific albums cuts like “A Keeper for Every Flame” and “The Last Word,” and older songs like “Quittin’ Time” and “Down At The Twist And Shout.” The only cover here, of Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses,” is delivered with the genuine exuberance its title demands.

There are a few drawbacks on the technical side. The presentation includes artist and guest interviews that are interspersed with the concert footage, leaving the production as a whole a bit choppy in pacing, and since the recording dates back to 1995, there is no 5.1 surround sound, just standard stereo. These are minor quibbles, though, and shouldn’t eclipse the fact that, as Mary Chapin Carpenter’s first live recording, Live At Wolf Trap: Jubilee serves as a valuable summary of the especially brilliant early years of her remarkable career.

Rating: A-

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