What is folk music exactly? At its inception in the late fifties and early sixties "folk music" was almost anything played on acoustic guitar. As long as there weren't any electric guitars or drum tracks it was "pure" folk music. Fortunately, in the new millennium "folk music" has evolved to be broader. Carrie Newcomer's latest release, Before & After, epitomizes what modern folk music has become.
Newcomer's career began in the early 80's when she was part of the folk group Stone Soup. She began her solo career when they disbanded in 1990. Her songwriting has always displayed an introspective bent, populated by private moments. The third track on Before and After, "Stones in the River," has the lyrics, " I do not know its name no matter how hard I try, but I believe it must taste like peaches eaten by the roadside." Metaphors and strong visual images predominate her lyrics while her melodies draw from the open field of American musical traditions with strong Celtic and Appalachian influences.
Many songwriters are better at writing than performing their material. Not true for Carrie Newcomer. Her lushly nuanced vocals command your attention. Like Mary Chapin Carpenter (who contributes a backing vocal) or Rosanne Cash, Newcomer's voice combines power with vulnerability. Backed by a top band anchored by Byron House on electric and acoustic bass and Keith Skooglund on acoustic and electric guitars, Before & After was produced by David Weber, who also worked on Newcomer's last album. Like its predecessor, the album has a lush sonic soundscape that further enriches the mellifluous qualities of Newcomer's music.
Releasing your thirteenth album is a major feat, regardless of your genre. But releasing thirteen albums (all still in print) populated primarily by original songs, while maintaining both artistic and aesthetic quality, is the sort of accomplishment that only a truly committed artist can achieve. Carrie Newcomer is such an artist.