Carrie Newcomer,
Betty's Diner
(Rounder/Philo, 2004)

Carrie Newcomer's new "best of" collection, Betty's Diner, is a wonderful introduction to this gifted artist's work. As a new fan myself, I found myself not only enjoying this CD but wanting to discover more about Newcomer through her eight previous albums.

Signed to Rounder Records in 1993, as she puts it "an unknown from Indiana," it's clear that Newcomer is a remarkably talented singer-songwriter. Blending folk, R&B, pop and country influences, her work has wide appeal and her songs speak to the universal human condition. In her words, "The songs are about sorrow and joy, humor and despair, loss and hope ... this is a collection about the human spirit as I know it."

Most of the songs on Betty's Diner have themes of reassurance and inspiration. In fact, it's hard to imagine listening to the album without feeling somehow better about your life as an ordinary struggling person. A gifted lyricist, Newcomer is able to write optimistic and faith-full messages without seeming syrupy. Her catchy melodies are hard to resist and her full-bodied, expressive alto voice is warm and welcoming.

There are several songs that brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard them. One is the title track, which is a new song. "Here we are all in one place/The warts and wounds of the human race/Despair and hope sit face to face/When you come in from the cold. ... Let her fill your cup with something kind/Eggs and toast like bread and wine/She's heard it all but she don't mind." Another is "I'll Go Too" (from A Gathering of Spirits), an exquisite song about family, love, life and death. And then there's "Bare to the Bone" (from The Age of Possibility). "Between here and now and forever, there's such precious little time/What we do in loving kindness is all we'll ever leave behind."

It's heartening to read that "I Should've Known Better" (from My True Name) earned Newcomer a gold record (and presumably good money) when Nickel Creek covered it on their Grammy Award-winning album from 2003, This Side. I hope this is just one of many high-profile opportunities to come Newcomer's way.

Carrie Newcomer's songs take the struggles we all face and transform them into opportunities for redemption and positive change. So I'll be taking Betty's Diner with my morning coffee as long as this winter lasts.

- Rambles
written by Joy McKay
published 6 March 2004

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