The Geography of Light

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Article Reviews

Carrie Newcomer (Rounder, 2008)

Back when I used to sort my CDs into categories (back when I still bought CDs), one section was devoted to inspirational female artists whose lyrics spoke to my life’s experiences. Too bad I didn’t know about Carrie Newcomer back then. She would have fit in perfectly with the Indigo Girls, Alanis Morissette, and Dar Williams.

Newcomer has been performing since the 1980s (for years as part of the folk group Stone Soup) and has released 11 solo albums since 1991, most recently The Geography of Light (Rounder, 2008). Though her rich alto voice and folk/country sound (accented by an Appalachian fiddle and classical cello) appeal, it is her thoughtful lyrics that keep me pressing repeat on my mp3 player.

Newcomer’s Quaker faith informs many of her songs, but hers is a subtle, progressive spirituality that hardly fits today’s evangelical “Christian” genre. Instead she explores the gray, the spaces between darkness and the light of the title.

A native Midwesterner who lives in rural southern Indiana, Newcomer is not afraid of mystery and finds the sacred in the everyday—from a guy at the 7-Eleven to lumpy rocks that reveal a mysterious quartz center. “All these things that we call familiar/are just miracles clothed in the commonplace,” she sings in “Geodes.” A convert to a faith that stresses silence, she writes in “Throw Me a Line” about listening for the voice of God: “But there is a still quiet voice/and it sounds a little like mine/saying, ‘You’re right where you should be/It’s just going to take time.’”

Newcomer is donating 10 percent of the album’s proceeds to the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker organization that works for peace and justice. She gives workshops on vocation and art and has collaborated with spiritual writer Parker J. Palmer for several of the CD’s songs. I may be a latecomer to Newcomer, but she has joined my pantheon of inspirational women of song.