Singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter doesn’t remember exactly when she met fellow singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin, but she remembers where. Carpenter was living in the D.C. area at the time, and Colvin came into town to perform at the Alexandria club the Birchmere.
“It’s a great club,” says Carpenter, who performs with Colvin at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at the Ohio Theatre. “They knew me there and they would let me stand at the soundboard and watch shows. Shawn was coming to town and I showed up and that’s the show where we actually met. Somehow, we were playing the same festivals. We ended up doing a lot of things together. She was one of the few people in my life when things went crazy and my career went kaboom, she was one of the few people who understood how wild and crazy it was. It was very intimidating, at least it was for me. As extraordinary as it was, it can feel isolating. She understood that.”
Colvin and Carpenter toured together last year and had such a great time, they’ve continued to tour together this year. Carpenter says they play each other’s material and throw in a few covers too.
“We didn’t know if it would work out,” she says. “Well, we knew we would have fun. You hope that that translates to the audience. I make a point of trying to give the audience a reference point every night and explain that she and I have known each for so many years. Before last year, we had never officially done a tour where it’s just us on stage all night long trading songs and harmonizing and riffing and being unscripted and irreverent. We’ve had a wonderful time and the audiences are wonderful.”
Though most of Carpenter’s success came in the ‘90s when her albums regularly soared to the top of the country charts, Carpenter has always considered herself a singer-songwriter whose music defies genre. That’s certainly true of her latest album, 2011’s Ashes and Roses. Narrative songs such as “Transcendental Reunion” and “The Sword We Carried” draw equally from folk and country.
“What I always maintained from the first time that I got signed is that I thought of myself as a singer-songwriter,” she says. “From that jumping off place, you can find yourself in many different musical places. I thought there wasn’t a catch-all term that felt comfortable. That one helped me feel the most comfortable. There were artists in country music that embodied that. People like Rodney Crowell, who had great success on country radio, and Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, and Rosanne Cash. They play folk-based country music, and they existed comfortably in those places.”