Celtic Connections review: Mary Chapin Carpenter

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Picture: Geograph.org.uk [CC]
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Picture: Geograph.org.uk [CC]
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THE sound of an orchestra tuning up against a soundtrack of accordion and fiddle tunes isn’t something you hear every day. But after a cheerfully lo-fi opening set by Australian singer-songwriter Jordie Lane, the interval brought a dramatic change of tone.

Mary Chapin Carpenter / BBC SSO

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

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Mary Chapin Carpenter is a regular, much-loved guest at Celtic Connections, and this year, ahead of an international tour, she chose to premiere new album Songs From the Movie. Songs from her back catalogue are reborn in orchestral versions by award-winning composer/arranger Vince Mendoza, who conducted the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at last night’s performance.

Though the reception was fairly rapturous, Carpenter’s fans may be divided over this new direction, which sees country-pop ballads like On and On It Goes, Between Here and Gone and Ideas are Like Stars coloured in with orchestral swirls and flourishes. Mendoza’s arrangements use the haunting qualities of the oboe to great effect, but at times the voice – even a voice like Carpenter’s – can’t quite rise above the might of the orchestra.

The overall effect is indeed very filmic, and the narrative, descriptive quality of the lyrics is foregrounded. But, strangely, the arrangements also seem to emphasis the similarity of the songs, in pace, tone and length of line. There is a chance some of the songs which, in a slimmed-down set could be achingly sad, with added flourishes of emotive strings are in danger of tipping over into pathos.