Carrie Newcomer possesses one of the great voices in contemporary music, and certainly one of the most beautiful. Her alto is rich and warm in tone. It is both comforting and compelling. Her music explores the personal and the spiritual, often combining both in poetic lyrics that ask all of the right questions.
Before & After is Newcomer's twelfth release on Rounder Records. Her last recording, which appeared in 2008, was the critically acclaimed Geography of Light. The people at Rounder certainly know a good thing when they see it. Each Newcomer release contains several unforgettable tunes, and then there's that signature voice. Before & After takes us on a very personal spiritual journey. It offers an open and honest take on how we live our daily lives. All of this is delivered with an accessible, lyrical touch and a poet's eye and ear.
The title track, Before & After is nothing short of magical. First there is that voice—warm and inviting. Then add the truly gifted Mary Chapin Carpenter on backing vocals. Mix in the talents of Jim Brock on drums and percussion, Chris Wagoner on strings, Gary Walters on piano and Newcomer on acoustic guitar. And then frame all of it around lyrics that go something like this:
We live our lives from then until now
Introspective and spiritual themes pull many of the songs on this recording together. The soft and lovely I Do Not Know Its Name explores the guiding spirit behind the natural world: "If holy is a sphere that cannot be rendered, / There is no middle place because all of it is center." Stones in the River, with backing vocals by Michael White, seeks to follow the choices we make in life, like stones thrown one by one into moving water. One of the CD's best cuts is Do No Harm, an allegory that teaches the central role of love. It is distinguished by Newcomer's duet with vocalist Krista Detor.
All things, big and small, are celebrated by Newcomer in song. The bounty and simple pleasures of the country fair are enumerated in I Wish I May, I Wish I Might. I especially like the gentler, upbeat celebration of everyday love in Hush, where "you can rest your head upon my heart / and we'll curl into a question mark / and I'll hold you in the arms of Hush / and love will have to be enough."
Carrie Newcomer's greatest gift is her gorgeous voice. But what makes her truly special is the way in which she expresses and celebrates through music her joy and optimism in a world that has a spiritual core. There is love and laughter, and most of all, meaning in a life lived day by day—before and after.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society and Roberta B. Schwartz.
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