March-April, 2008


by Terry Roland


  Among the gifts of many a fine singer-songwriter is the ability to tell stories which bring out the ordinary miracles in the world around us. On Saturday night, March 29th, at McCabe's in Santa Monica, Carrie Newcomer brought her own brand of natural magic through song and story. A Quaker from Indiana gifted with an uncommon richness in her voice and insightful songwriting, Newcomer guided the audience through many of the songs on her new, critically acclaimed CD, The Geography of Light. The songs were straightforward and simple with an inner elegance that supported her spiritual insights and songs of compassion. For example, in the song, There is a Tree, she gives voice to her affinity for finding words for life experiences, which are sometimes beyond words. The humor-through-song of the evening was an old-time jazz styled song called "Don't Push Send." It tells stories of the now common and sometimes disastrous experience of sending knee-jerk emotional e-mails.

 As a live performer, she came to the stage with several strengths bringing accessibility to her gentle form of folk music that was fresh, original and polished while retaining a core of warmth and compassion. What sets her apart from many singer-songwriters is the spiritual essence of the stories she tells through her music. The songs ring with an invitation to join her as she sees God's breath in the fog that rests on her window in the morning (There is a Tree), or to see the rare beauty resting inside the common stone known as a geode, plentiful in the terrain around her Indiana home (Geode).

 Her onstage style is casual, humorous and holds a simple charisma leaving the audience feeling as though they've been in the comfort of her living room. McCabe's, as a small, intimate venue, holds its own home-like charm which encouraged this feeling. After all, it's a place where Arlo Guthrie once said he felt like moving into after a two-night gig there. Newcomer took full advantage of this ambiance as she sang and told stories that were both universal and personal.

 Newcomer's keyboard player offered subtle, beautiful accompaniment with a presence that added a dimension to each song. As a duo, they worked together in way that gave fullness to the set with a sometimes-breathtaking ambience. Newcomer's guitar style consisted of fine country rhythms and an inventive picking style, enriching the song and complimenting her keyboardist.

 These were the ingredients of an evening rich with spirit and a transcendent experience of fresh, original folk music. Newcomer has maintained a careful balance between the art of writing songs with depth, making accessible music that invites a larger audience, and a message of social consciousness through non-violence.

 As I left the concert, Newcomer patiently signed CD's and visited with her audience in a way that was attentive, hospitable, and warm showing that she has the personal integrity to put her words and music into action. Perhaps, after all, the experience of a Carrie Newcomer concert is similar to looking into the geode or imagining the breath of God on an ordinary window. However, there is certainly nothing ordinary about this talented, gifted veteran singer-songwriter.

Terry Roland is an English teacher, freelance writer, occasional poet, songwriter and folk and country enthusiast. The music has been in his blood since being raised in Texas. He came to California where he was taught to say 'dude' at an early age.