By Jackie Morris

Tracy_Newman_I_Just_See_YouIn her second, vintage-flavored, modern-folk album, I Just See You, award-winning singer-songwriter Tracy Newman reinforces what her first album suggested: She is one of the most talented story-song lyricists on the folk scene today.

This is not to overlook the refreshingly upbeat musicality of her songs – the smooth-as-glass harmonies by the Reinforcements (Gene Lippmann and Rebecca Leigh) that recall the heyday of sweet harmony in the ‘30s and ‘40s; the touch of old-time country swing in some wonderful steel guitar, pedal steel, and dobro; or Newman’s own crystal-clear vocals that are so easy on the ears. It is just that what is really remarkable in these 11 original songs are the words. The closer you listen, the better they get.

And you don’t have to “work at” listening, either. Newman has the casual, conversational style of a master wordsmith. Her phrasing never calls attention to itself; her images are never obscure. The words-and-melody all seem to flow effortlessly together. But oh, can these songs pack a punch! They are funny, engaging, touching, relatable, and insightful…some-times all at once.

Of course, this gift is not surprising given Newman’s background. Sandwiched between her early passion to be a folk-singer and her current full-time resumption of that passion, Tracy Newman was an Emmy-winning television producer and writer, with credits including Cheers, The Nanny, The Drew Carey Show and Ellen. She was also a founding member of The Groundlings, an improvisational theatre troupe.

I mention these achievements only to underscore the dramatic sensibility of her music. Not only are her songs incredibly relatable, firmly rooted in real-life experience, but she is able to convey these experiences with a deceptive simplicity and facileness. That is an art.

The underlying theme of almost all her songs is personal relationships – both romantic and parental. But unlike the vapid or cloying lyrics that often (too often) accompany these subjects, Newman’s songs are laced with a keen sense of humor, irony, and intelligence, as well as psychological insight and honesty.

This is most clearly seen in one of my favorite songs on the album, an hysterically funny track called Carpool. Anyone who has ever driven his or her teenage child anywhere (especially with teenage friends in the car) will know that every word is true! It’s a brutally honest portrait of adolescent disdain…parental thoughts…. and, ultimately, enduring motherly love…all painted with the broad brush of humor.

Fire Up the Weed (which won First Place in the Great American Song Contest in 2011) is another masterpiece of emotional honesty…this one dealing with a dysfunctional marriage centered on getting high and never talking. And I Can Be Bad is a sure-to-make-you-grin satire about difficult, insensitive men…brilliantly written from a man’s point of view.

Finally, another of my personal favorites, Table Nine took Third Place in the American Songwriter Lyric Contest in 2011. It is a truly touching tribute to Merle Haggard (whom Newman has cited in the past as an early influence on her music). It is written from the first-person perspective of a young waitress who waits on an old Country legend every day but has no idea who he is. Then one day, she hears him play and understands the magic of a musical genre from an older generation.

At first listen, Newman’s music is something of an anachronism: there’s that old-fashioned, upbeat Country sound combined with a very modern sensibility (easy listening with an intellectual edge). But in a larger context, I suppose, it fits the old Country music paradigm of singing lively songs about everyday painful subjects. It’s a timeless “feel-good” formula that certainly works in I Just See You.

Tracy Newman and the Reinforcements - I Just See You

For its entire up-tempo beat, however, Newman’s second CD is a very mellow, acoustic album. There are no drums except for one song. Recorded mainly in Nashville, it features Pat McGrath on acoustic guitar, Dave Francis on upright bass, Robbie Turner on steel guitar and pedal steel, and Russ Pahl on dobro, banjo and pedal steel…as well as The Reinforcements’ harmony singers, Gene Lippmann and Rebcca Leigh. A couple tracks recorded in Los Angeles feature other members of The Reinforcements: John Cartwright on upright bass, Gene Lippmann on acoustic guitar, and former band member, Lorie Doswell on background vocals. Still other guest artists on selected tracks include acoustic guitarist Shaun Cromwell, electric guitarist Fred Sokolow, saxophonist Terry Landry, and singers Laraine Newman (Tracy’s sister) and Eric Schwartz on background vocals.

One final note: After having the pleasure of hearing Tracy Newman and the Reinforcements in person, I should add that if you have a chance to see one of their performances, don’t miss it. You will wind up wanting to buy this CD.

A New York transplant to the tiny town of Carpinteria, CA, Jackie is a freelance writer by profession and a singer-songwriter by passion. Her newly-released third album of original Folk/Americana songs was among Top Folk Albums of 2011 on the Folk Music Radio Airplay Charts. Jackie is also an active member in such acoustic music communities as SummerSongs, SongMakers, and FARWest Folk Alliance.