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Mary Chapin Carpenter calls at the Flynn

E = mc2. Empathy = Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Mary Chapin Carpenters songs are filled with human compassion.

In 1994, for example, she recorded John Doe No. 24, a heartbreaking ballad about a nameless deaf and blind man born and raised in New Orleans but then sadly separated from his parents. Passed from one Illinois state ward to another like an orphan shoe from the lost and found, he makes the best of life but dreams only about his New Orleans childhood.

Carpenters song inspired Dave Bakkes book about John Doe, God Knows His Name, and Does Peoria gravestone (purchased by Carpenter) contains this line from Carpenters homage: Lifes a mystery, but so too is the human heart.

Tragic separation from New Orleans is also the subject of Houston, one of the cuts on Carpenters recently released 11th album, The Calling. This time, Hurricane Katrina has torn an entire family from the Crescent City. The child who sings the song longs to return to New Orleans, but, like John Doe, he doesnt even know his name.

At the Flynn Center on March 31, Carpenter spaced songs from her new album, such as Houston, with time-tested classics like Stones In The Road (the title track of the album containing John Doe). Two of the evenings highlights were her Goodbye-Earl-like tribute to the Dixie Chicks, On With The Song, and her worshipful rendition of Lucinda Williams Passionate Kisses.

Her diamond wedding ring sparkling (she was married 5 years ago), Carpenter also treated the crowd to a husband trilogy capped by her poetic love song Twilight.

Carpenter, 49, has been performing for two decades and has won 5 Grammy Awards. Lyrics from her percussively powerful It Must Have Happened reflect her hard-won wisdom: Cant remember lookin for omens, hopin there was gonna be a sign/ Cant remember figuring out the secret was inside me all this time.

By the way, if youre interested in the other E = mc2, read Walter Issacsons wonderful new biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe. Its all relative, right?

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