Much like those of Kate Campbell and Meg Hutchison, Carrie Newcomer's coffeehouse folk, late-'70s songwriter-influenced sounds refuse to serve as background music. This is folk roots impressionism mixing spirituality, questioning and vision without obviousness or a hint of sanctimoniousness; through her words, the singer encourages reflection and personal efficacy.
Herself a fine guitarist, Newcomer elaborates on the structure of her compositions through the judicious orchestration of side-musicians on cello, mandolin, piano, drums and bass. Newcomer's gorgeous voice - one that moves from high to low, from sweet to challenging without histrionics or duplicity - mirrors the tasteful accompaniment. Memorable vocal contributions from Mary Chapin Carpenter on the title track are a highlight.
Isolated phrases will resonate with listeners. Perhaps "Courage doesn't always shout" from A Simple Change of Heart or "Forgive myself for what didn't matter," an observation from Before and After. Pinching a bit of melody from Stephen Foster's Hard Times Come Again No More, Newcomer is spot-on when she sings, "Sometimes there's nothing left to do but pack it up and move along" on Ghost Train.
The all-encompassing messages cannot be lost. Newcomer writes songs that she hopes will mean something, songs that will strike a chord. That she is able to make such entirely enjoyable is a measure of her mastery of the craft. With "Before & After" Carrie Newcomer has written an album's worth of songs that encourage faith and emotion to rise to consciousness.