Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Before & After, Carrie Newcomer's latest CD is a blessing

Listening to singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer’s new CD, Before & After, makes me feel younger, much younger. It takes me back to my years of listening to Joan Baez and Mary Travers LPs and the joy and relaxation of folk music. For the last 15 years or so my musical world has consisted almost exclusively of jazz, show and cabaret. This CD, with its deeply spiritual focus, is a welcome change.

Newcomer, a Quaker whose work is inspired by her friendships and collaborations with respected authors, theologians and fellow songwriters, says ”Before & After” is “the most unguarded and naked work I’ve ever done.”  This album is about “paring down...peeling back layers to get to the heart of what really matters." Musically, “it’s about playing the most elegant notes and placing them perfectly.” Spiritually,  it asks the questions “What really sustains us?  In a time of change and transition, where do we find solid ground?” 

In the title track, Newcomer, who refers to her songs as hymns, considers the search for the sacred in the mundane, attempting to capture the moments of transcendence in every day life.  ”We live our lives from then until now,/By the mercies received/or the mark upon our brow./To my heart I’ll collect/what the four winds will scatter,/And frame my life by before and after.”

I’m moved by “Do No Harm” with its biblical dream of turning swords into plows to bring God’s Kingdom to earth, and I especially love “Stones in the River,” a reminder of the importance of being faithful to calling, to “believe in the better world I’ve dreamt,” even though we may never see the flowering of the seeds we plant. “So, today/I’ll drop stones into the river,/and the current/takes them out into forever,/and the truth is/most of us will never know/where our best intentions go,/still I drop another stone.”

Another favorite of mine is “If Not Now,” with its assurance that despite struggles and sorrow, “miracles do happen every shining now and then.” “If not now,/tell me when./ If not now,/tell me when./ We may never see this moment,/or place and time again./ If not now,/if not now./ Tell me when.”

And I appreciate “A Simple Change of Heart,” with its message of hope. “There’s never been a day/when the world wasn’t new./When the sun did not rise or the life break on through . . . there’s always clearer skies stretching out beyond that weather.”

Newcomer’s rich alto is soothing as well as uplifting, as is her guitar playing. She’s joined by an assortment of gifted musicians and vocalists, among them Mary Chapin Carpenter who joins her for the title track. The songs, often poetic, are in the folk tradition, with Appalachian and classical influences.

Exploring spiritual themes in her music throughout her career, Newcomer has been either influenced by or written with such notables as Parker J. Palmer, Phillip Gulley, Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Scott Russell Sanders, Barbara Kingsolver and Jill Bolte Taylor.

This is Newcomer’s 12th release on Rounder Records. New Yorkers will have a chance to hear her live on March 28 when she appears at Joe's Pub. For more information, visit www.carrienewcomer.com.

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