BEFORE & AFTER. By Carrie Newcomer. Burlington, MA: Rounder Records, 2010.
I had the privilege and pleasure of reviewing Carrie Newcomer’s earlier album, The Geography of Light (Rounder Records, 2008). That privilege has been given to me once again as a copy of her latest album, Before & After recently arrived in the mailbox. As I noted in that earlier review, I find the task of reviewing an album to be very different from reviewing a book. When it comes to vocal music, the words are important, but the song isn’t just about the words. There is melody and there is harmony, the quality of the voice and the way the songs are played. Some songs are fast and hard driving, other forms of music kind of lull you in with a soft but beckoning call.
Carrie Newcomer’s style is soft and inviting, gracious and gentle, a bit of folk and maybe a bit of country-rock (on the lighter side). The accompaniment of the songs, all written by Newcomer, is largely acoustic (she accompanies herself on an acoustic guitar). Her voice is deep and melodic -- there is something of a Karla Bonhoff (of whom I’m a fan), or maybe Mary Chapin Carpenter, who provides a vocal track on the title song.
When it comes to the message of the songs, you can discern the presence of her deep but progressive faith. She is by faith profession a Quaker, heavily influenced by Parker Palmer. There is a touch of the mystical here, with one song being influenced by the Tao Te Ching. There is a recognition that we are living in changing times, but it is also a time of opportunity.
Living as we do in challenging times, when it is easier to shout out in anger at our neighbors, Carrie offers us a different vision in these words from the song “A Simple Change of Heart”:
Courage doesn't always shout
But whispers and reminds
When we get up one more morning
And try one more time
We tried yelling at each other
It hasn't worked so well
Throwing gas on fire
Never helped as far as I can tell
Throwing stones cut deep
A little kindness goes deeper still
Even more powerfully, in her song: “Do No Harm,” which is inspired by a short story written by Scott Russell Sanders entitled “Savages.” The song speaks of an Isaiah Roth, a Quaker preacher who as a child had witnessed the massacre by white traders of a group of Native American people, destroying the “Eden,” created by his father – and yet he would one day become a preacher who proclaimed the idea that the greatest law is love – a very Quaker idea. The chorus picks up that Quaker message very strongly.
Do no harm, shed no blood, the only law here is love
We can call the kingdom down here on earth
Beat your swords into plows, don’t be afraid I’ll show how
Lift your eyes to the skies, all is holy here
Of course, some of the songs are just plain fun, like the last song on the album – “A Crash of Rhinoceroses.” This song includes some rather intricate and interesting combinations of animal names. Consider the chorus:
It's a crash of rhinoceroses a pomp of Pekinese
It’s a gaggle of geese and a swarm of bees
A parliament of owl and a gam of whale
A pandemonium of parrot and a watch of nightingale
A huddle of walrus, company of moles
Exultation of lark and a murder of crow
A simple flock sheep and a herd of deer
Its a bask of crocodiles and a sleuth of bear
I’ve only encountered these two albums, but I’ve come to greatly enjoy Carrie’s music. I recognize that music is something for which each of us has our own tastes and sensibilities. Mine are rather eclectic – I like Coltrane, Brubeck, Bach, Mozart, Ronstadt, Krall, Copland, and Neil Young. So, all I can say, is that I truly enjoy this music, and believe that you might enjoy it as well. For people of faith, there is the added bonus of faith inspired music that doesn’t overwhelm or over preach. It simply invites and encourages.
So, be watching for the CD, when officially released in February 2010. For links to the songs click here.