Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Carrie Newcomer: faith and laughter

A song about a woman who steps up with courage and finds that her neighbors join her, one about living through dark and lonely aspects of night and reaching the hope of a new dawn, a many faceted look at how art, life, and faith intersect in not always predictable ways, a tap your foot snap your fingers re imagining of some New Testament stories, and a look at e mail gone astray -- all of these form part of the music on Carrie Newcomer’s latest album, The Geography of Light..

It’s an album that pushes the boundaries out a bit father, both musically and lyrically, for Newcomer, who has always been known for her thoughtful writing and distinctive alto voice. “I had a very intensive tour to go along with the album release, very demanding, but very exciting, and all over the country. Great folks and I’m really...” Newcomer paused to find the right word, “...grateful. People are singing along with the lyrics -- different parts of different songs, too -- and there’s no better gift you can give a songwriter than to take a song and make it your own like that, to sing along with it. I’m just incredibly grateful when that happens, because it seems like the song is more than me, you know, that it has gone beyond me, which is the whole goal of the songwriter. Different songwriters have different ways they go about that, but the goal is communicate, to connect in a way that’s greater than the person who wrote it.”

Newcomer is based in Indiana, which is where she grew up. “I think there’s something very midwestern about my songs, about the way I approach writing,” she says. “And I have this great job that lets me travel from the deserts of the southwest to the autumn leaves of the Berkshires, and then come back home to my house in the woods, my sweetheart -- and my dogs!” Another thing that grounds Newcomer’s work is her faith. She is a Quaker, a faith she came to as an adult. ” I really do hold to that Quaker idea of let your life speak, of finding what is the truth of your life, what gives you joy, what is really true for you, whether that’s song writing, or being an accountant, or whatever,” she says. “Sometimes it takes time to recognize that, but it’s incredibly powerful when you do.”

This Newcomer’s eleventh album on Rounder Records, more spare in instrumentation and more poetic and probing in lyric than her earlier work, but not so much a departure as a next right step. There’s a lot of spiritual context to the album, “and I’ve been fascinated by the kinds of response I’ve encountered to that,” she says . It’s not a new direction for the artist, but she’s been seeing a change in how her listeners take this aspect of her music. “I think folks are really thinking about authentic living. They are thinking a lot about the good questions. They don’t want anybody to give them really easy answers, but they want to explore the questions,” she says.

One of the songs on The Geography of Light is There is a Tree, a powerful meditation on trust and on what it is like and what it is not like to be called to be an artist, framed in images both everyday and mystical. There a song about coming face to face with repeating old mistakes, called You’d Think by Now, and one in which the singer contemplates the edges of light and dark in life, Map of Shadows. There’s also a song called Geodes. Geodes are those unassuming rocks, dusty brown on the outside, with crystal patterns and hues of all sorts hidden within. They are plentiful where Newcomer lives in southern Indiana.

You can’t always tell one from another

And it’s best not to judge a book by its tattered cover

I have found when I tried or looked deeper inside

What appears unadorned might be wondrously formed

You can’t always tell but sometimes you just know

Newcomer sings in the first verse. “There's a lot going on in this album,” she says, “but if I had to choose just one song, I think Geodes is the most indicative of it. Because that’s Carrie’s statement of faith in a nutshell.”

There’s laughter, grieving, anger, searching, connection, pain, questioning, mistakes , forgiveness, and creation, among the things going on in The Geography of Light. It’s both a welcoming album and one for those who are willing to be challenged by the music they listen to. There’s plenty of space for the listener, because for Newcomer it is about connection and communication, while being true to who she as an artist. “ My faith, my spiritual path, is an important part of who I am, of how I walk in the world, so it has to come out in my music,” she says, “ but a Christian record label wouldn’t touch what I do with a ten foot pole. It’s way outside their parameters.”. She knows, too, that both music and faith are part of the continuing journey. “I can say things now that I could never have said when I was twenty five. I had perfectly valid things to say then, but I’m in a different place now. I really feel as though I’ve found my writer’s voice since I turned forty. And I hope I’m still saying that sort of thing when I’m eighty, you know -- that I was so clueless back when I was fifty eight, or sixty two,” Newcomer said, laughing.

Along the Music Road, our conversation with Carrie Newcomer will continue, with more the workshops Newcomer teaches on arts and activism, writing, and vocation, and on a project she’s been involved in lately that has to do with the history of the Ohio Valley. Her tour schedule and other information may be found at carrienewcomer.com.

you may also wish to see

video of that song about e mail

Music Road: creative practice: laughter

Angels Unaware

a bit about one of Newcomer’s earlier albums, The Age of Possibility in this article

late summer: two for the road

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds like a beautiful, multi-layered album. Thanks so much for introducing me to a new artist!

3:08 PM  
Blogger Kerry Dexter said...

glad you found the story, and happy to introduce you to Carrie's work. enjoying your new blog at MyFaithProject, too.

6:18 PM  

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