Carrie Newcomer,
The Age of Possibility
(Rounder, 2000)

Carrie Newcomer has been described as a heartland songwriter, Americana artist, song poet and new folk singer. She likes the Americana label, saying that this category includes a wide variety of performers who do material that is "on the edges of their genres." Although I hadn't listened to Carrie's work prior to this review, my perception was that she was a folk singer. Post review, I understand why non-specific genre labels are most often used to describe her. She is a folk singer as Mary-Chapin Carpenter is a country singer. Their work includes characteristics of an assigned genre, but strays from that classification just enough to make it hard to classify.

Released in 2000, Age of Possibility was Carrie's sixth album and her first studio release in over two years. Her own acoustic guitar is accompanied by a dozen musicians and vocalists credited on the album. There is a core band of four on keyboards, percussion, guitar and bass, with others contributing on selected tracks. Mark Williams, whose production credits include several CDs for Southern Culture on the Skids and one for Hootie & the Blowfish, makes his third appearance as Carrie's producer on this effort.

In the CD notes, a line or two before each song lyric is intended to give insight into the motivation for or meaning of the song. Although fairly obvious and rather clichˇ ("...the only real measure of our lives is the strength of our love" and "what is gone may be gone, but not forgotten"), it's a nice touch. For the most part, this collection doesn't warrant the extra information. The subjects are big-picture-of-life concepts such as regret, truth, love, home, connections and injustice. Although the first-person point-of-view is occasionally used, the feeling is that of a songwriter who is a participant in the big picture, just as you are, rather than a songwriter who is pouring out her own gut-wrenching personal experiences. Carrie says, "The real goal is a communication, not just me telling you who I am."

Carrie's voice is a deep, low alto with a unique quality that I wouldn't exactly call husky or nasal, but whatever the term, this resonance distinguishes her. The low range and that characteristic sound forces you to you listen harder though, because occasionally the lyrics get a little blurry. Hers is essentially the only voice on the record. The few tracks that include backing vocals use them minimally, as fill-in sound, rather than as two-part harmony with the lead.

There is variety on Age of Possibility. Several songs would be at home in the new country format. "When It's Gone It's Gone," "Love is Wide" and "One Great Cry" are all up-tempo, heavy production tunes with catchy phrases in their verse-chorus-verse-chorus structures. Several others that feature Carrie's vocals and a less-is-more style of accompaniment are the jewels on this CD. The lightness of the piano on "Bare to the Bone" and "Sparrow," the vibraphone and cello on "Seven Dreams," and the accordion on "This Too Will Pass" are perfect surroundings for Carrie's voice.

Carrie and her family live in Indiana. She ventures from there often, performing at folk festivals and clubs all over the country. Reviewing Age of Possibility peaked my interest in her. Although I didn't find her work striking or "life changing" (as I read in another review), I would like to catch her live act on one of her annual stops in my city. I'd recommend that anyone with an interest in folk music or in folk-country-pop blends check out Carrie's music. You may find that it agrees with you.

[ by Valerie Fasimpaur ]
Rambles: 14 September 2002

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