Hitting Los Angeles a week after the release of her compilation album “Party Doll and Other Favorites” (Columbia), Mary Chapin Carpenter retained the album’s flair by rearranging a few of her best-known numbers, showing a nice rock ‘n’ roll edge with Mick Jagger’s “Party Doll” and taking a witty swipe at the divas with a hilarious ditty.
Carpenter, who put her most-popular hit, “Passionate Kisses,” in the No. 2 slot, continues to deliver sharp and friendly performances, backed by a band that has a fine sense of place. Nothing over the top, nothing cloying and no twang: Though country radio is the source of her greatest hits, Carpenter clearly has no artistic relationship with contemporary Nashville.
In fact, Carpenter’s show in many ways leaned much more toward the confessional style of singer-songwriters such as opener Shawn Colvin. Carpenter, whose stories contain a bit of self-deprecation, paints characters with a history of leaving the scene of emotional mishap: At her most tender musically, there’s a lot of bleakness in the message. “Almost Home,” her new single, concerns the shedding of emotional baggage — a sign that her songwriting is taking on new dimensions.
Lyrics were changed here and there to reflect, perhaps, a more mature attitude toward the subject matter. In “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” she gave the story a happy ending, taking the woman deserted in her mid-30s out of the “typing pool” and putting her next to the “swimming pool.”
Carpenter bookended her show with stark and slow versions of “The Hard Way” and “Come On Come On” and then emphasized the songs from “Party Doll” — “Down at the Twist and Shout,” “I Feel Lucky,” “Shut Up and Kiss Me.”
Throughout the evening, Colvin and her guitarist, Stewart Smith, would join the ensemble, giving the vocals and backing added nuance and depth. Backed only by Jon Carroll’s piano, the two women –Carpenter singing, Colvin pantomiming — paired on a number that poked fun at Madonna, Mariah Carey, Shania Twain and Celine Dion. Each phrase was more hilarious than the last.
Colvin opened with a seven-song set that was free-and-easy, considerably less controlled than her performances with her band. In a solo setting, she still projects the complete package — the songwriting, the vocals, the stage presence — that has made her such a vital artist in the 1990s.