Carrie Newcomer, that southern Indiana-based folk singer-songwriter with the satiny-smooth voice, is poised to release a new album, The Geography of Light, which promises to be her most inviting release yet.
She’s steadfastly built her career in the Americana scene, amassing a following with simple yet palatial arrangements and an incisive lyrical approach to emotionally difficult subjects.
“My work has always had, hopefully, an honesty and personality to it,” Newcomer says. She thinks her new album, set for release Feb. 12, is the most accurate expression of her goals as a musician to date.
Newcomer has a gift for making the seemingly banal in our world seem like so much more. One of her new songs, “Geodes,” was written about the rock formation native to her Southern Indiana home.
"I love the metaphor,” she says. “We think of them as commonplace; they’re just rocks. But at the same time, they’re miracles. There are incredibly important and amazing things that happen when we pay attention. There’s a lot of that on this album: When you tell someone you’re so busy you can’t see straight, that’s considered a virtue. Our culture doesn’t really encourage us to take the time to pay attention. This album explores that. When you pay attention what do you see? When I stop long enough to be present in my life, I encounter miracles everywhere.”
Newcomer will perform “Geodes” and other tunes off The Geography of Light at two upcoming CD release shows: Saturday, Feb. 9 at the Buskirk-Chumley in Bloomington with Madison, Wis., café jazz trio The Stellanovas and Tuesday, Feb. 12 at the River Crossing Borders on the Northside.
Newcomer thinks she’s retained her creative vision because she’s stayed true to her Midwestern roots. She’s been asked numerous times over the years why she didn’t move on to one of the music meccas like Nashville or L.A. Her answer is simple, and one often heard about this point on the map: This is a place that keeps you sensible.
“At heart I’m basically a nice Midwestern lady,” Newcomer says. “I’m the woman who brings the casserole when somebody’s sick. I’m comfortable with that. The winds of the music business can blow with gale force. It’s really been good for me that I come home and ground and remember who I am.”
Besides, she’s made plenty of friends in Indiana who share her interest in spirituality and the life of the mind. Authors and theologians like Danville, Ind.’s Phillip Gulley and Bloomington’s Scott Russell Sanders have influenced her work and approach to life.
“I write songs, but I write about something,” she says. “There’s always been a spiritual current to my work. These are things I think about a lot.”
Newcomer’s song-length meditations, spiritual or otherwise, seem so effortlessly executed because Newcomer is a writer at heart. She’s taught workshops on songwriting and creative writing nationwide. Moreover, many of her lyrics are gleaned from poems and short stories she’s previously written. Still, even if she draws from other modes of expression, she’s committed to just one.
“I always come back to songwriting,” Newcomer says. “There’s something about that condensed format that I love — that idea that every word has to count.”
Not every person can so succinctly ponder life’s mysteries with lines like “I am the fool whose life’s been spent between what’s said and what is meant,” as Newcomer sings on the gossamer “There Is a Tree.” She knows the importance of choosing words carefully. Her rule: Lose a listener with one line and you’ll lose them for five.
“I tell people the longest Scrabble game I ever played was with three other songwriters,” Newcomer says. “It was kind of sick — [everyone thinking] there’s a better word, I know there’s a better word.”
But not every track on The Geography of Light is loaded with philosophical conjecture. It’s not just wisdom that Newcomer has attained over time; it’s also the ability to look on the lighter side.
“It was very important for me to learn how to laugh at myself,” she says. “Writers can think so deeply about things. But at the same time, learning how to laugh at just how funny we are as people, all our foibles, is really important. It balances me.”
Newcomer also finds balance by acknowledging that the grays will always outnumber the blacks and whites in our lives.
“A considered life comes back to the same questions again and again,” Newcomer says. “What do I love? What’s most important? When I peel back the layers of all the distractions, what is really still at the heart of the matter?”
Her new song “You’d Think By Now” is about exactly that. The crux of the tune: Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, here you go again.
“That’s usually how it works,” Newcomer says. “I’m a restless spirit by nature. But I have come to peace with the idea it’s not so much about coming up with an answer but continuing to ask the good questions.”
WHAT: Carrie Newcomer CD release concert with The Stellanovas
WHERE: Buskirk-Chumley Theater, 114 E. Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m., $15, all-ages
WHAT: Carrie Newcomer CD release in-store
WHERE: Borders Books and Music River Crossing, 8675 River Crossing Blvd.
WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 12, 7 p.m., free, all-ages