Music Reviews

Carrie Newcomer

The Gathering of Spirits


Gonna live my life like it don’t get much better/Walk right in like I own this joint/Get right down to the heart of the matter/Live straight to the point

Living “straight to the point” has been a recurring theme on all of Indiana native Carrie Newcomer’s records, and that holds true for her eighth release, The Gathering of Spirits, her strongest effort since 1994’s masterful An Angel at My Shoulder.

A few of the points she get straight to: the risks of falling in love (“Little Earthquakes”), the humorous perils of growing older (“Silver”), and her refusal to accept that “hate is ever right or God’s will” (“I Heard an Owl,” her response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01).

She gets some star-power vocalizing from bluegrass darling Alison Krauss on the lilting, mandolin-tinged title track, but I have to question the decision to so underutilize Krauss’ terrific voice: She is relegated to very subtle harmonizing, so subtle that if you weren’t told she was featured on the track, there’s no way you’d notice.

On other tracks, Newcomer honors her Midwestern roots, describing her ideal of paradise as “a long dirt road, a faithful dog, and an old white house” (“There And Back”), and her Quaker faith by singing of the sacredness in “showerheads and good dry towels” (“Holy as the Day is Spent”).

Newcomer’s powerful alto is at full strength on “Spirit,” at times tender, at other times thunderous, as she blends folk, pop, and bluegrass into her own unique style.

One of my favorite “extras” on any Carrie Newcomer disc is its running time. Unlike many artists in the CD era, she has never released a 60-minute disc. Spirits clocks in at a respectable 43:45: no filler, no dross. Just 11 finely honed folk-pop gems. When it comes putting together a well-crafted disc, Newcomer knows when to say “when.”

Carrie Newcomer:

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