Carrie Newcomer: Before & After
Before & After
“We remember moments,” says Carrie Newcomer. That’s the idea she was thinking about as she chose which of her songs to put on her latest album. It’s an idea that plays out in graceful, reflective, sometimes funny, and often surprising ways over the course of the thirteen tracks on Before & After.
Do No Harm, for example, inspired by a story by Scott Russell Sanders and drawn from an event in history, finds the central characters all making choices in the space of a moment’s time that echo down through lifetimes. I Do Not Know Its Name is grounded in the present moment by images of the juice of peaches running down your chin or the joy of a spontaneous song from a stranger, and anchored in mystery by another stranger’s enigmatic advice about a poem and the flash of something moving in the waters just beyond reach.
As thinker, poet, and musician, Newcomer often walks the territory of mystery, especially those places where mystery intersects with the everyday. In the title track, Before & After, she illuminates moments of circumstance and emotion when nothing is ever quite the same after they’ve happened, from a hit and run on the highway to Jacob’s dream of an angel. Coy Dogs goes deep into the risks and costs of the choice, chance, and change, while Hush is a passionate affirmation of trust in the power of love however unknowable the circumstance. A Small Flashlight finds the singer considering trust from another point of view. I Wish I May I Wish I Might is a gentle and amusing celebration of the fun and family and home, framed in quick vignettes of county fairs of Newcomer’s native Indiana, and A Crash of Rhinoceros is just plain funny -- though you might take away a deeper idea or two from that, too, as you finish laughing.
Musically, Newcomer goes to places both direct and complex. She’s always had a good hand at writing melodies that naturally support the words, ideas, and poetry of her lyrics, and as producer (she co produced this with David Weber, with whom she’s worked on several recordings) she understands how to frame her warm and conversational alto in a way that respects both the music and the poetry of her songs. Coy Dogs, for example, begins with a bass figure that immediately suggests both the dark and light of the song, while I Meant to Do My Work Today is framed in notes which, in very subtle fashion, suggest the ticking of a clock. “I had such great musicians to work with on this album,” Newcomer says. “They’re people who if you want a lot of notes, they can give you a lot of notes. They also know that sometimes what you don’t say is as important as what you do.” Newcomer plays guitar and bouzouki on the album, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, Michael White, and Krista Detor each add backing vocals on one song. Among others who join in are Byron House on electric and upright bass, Gary Waters on keyboards, and Mary Gaines on cello.
What holds at the center of it all, though, is the power and poetry of Newcomer’s ideas, and her musicality in sharing them . There’s a lot going on in this album -- in each song, actually. As ever, Newcomer asks good questions with her music, and invites you to consider what your own answers to those questions may be.
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
from Before & After
copyright 2009 Carrie Newcomer Music
you may also want to see
Carrie Newcomer: faith and laughter
Wilderness Plots: the dvd
late summer: two for the road
look for more from Carrie Newcomer about the making of Before & After, and her recent travels, which have included concerts in India, coming up in print in the folk and world music magazine Dirty Linen, and here along the music road as well.