Friday, September 15, 2023

Carrie Newcomer: “A Great Wild Mercy” (2023) CD Review

Politics and social discourse have become extremely divisive and volatile in recent years. And the pandemic certainly didn’t help matters, for it led to people avoiding each other, not trusting anyone. It takes a while to get over that sort of thing, for people to remember how to communicate, how to listen, how to reach out, and to treat others with a bit of kindness. And perhaps it’s starting to happen. Music provides a great way to bring folks together. Music communicates so much to so many, and one thing it does well is remind us that we’re not alone in what we’re experiencing, in what we’re feeling. Carrie Newcomer is a singer/songwriter who understands this and who addresses it on her new album A Great Wild Mercy. The album contains all original material, helping to ease us back into the world. Joining her on this album are Jim Brock on drums and percussion; Brittany Haas on violin, mandolin and banjo; Paul Kowert on bass; Jordan Tice on guitar, banjo and backing vocals; Gary Walters on piano, electric piano and organ; and Siri Undlin on backing vocals. The album was produced by Carrie Newcomer and Davd Weber.

Carrie Newcomer opens A Great Wild Mercy with its title track, which begins with a swell of music before she delivers the first line, “It was a summer storm that broke the heat.” Is that swell the storm approaching, or the heat about to break? It’s an intriguing opening. I’m guessing most folks will appreciate these lines: “I’m tired of all the rage, tired of all the worry/I’m ready for a great wild mercy.” Oh yes, aren’t we all? We are not just ready, but eager for it. I don’t know about you, but all the anger and anxiety has exhausted me. Carrie Newcomer’s voice seems to speak for all of us here. In the second half of the song, she sings, “There is news of the world, and news of the heart.” It seems about time to focus on the latter, and this music is right there, ready to lead us to a better place. And that bass line that begins “Start With A Stone” seems able to provide us with the right spirit to make things better. This track has an uplifting and sweet vibe, and features some nice work on mandolin. “Not in the past or whatever comes next/There it was in the places I did not expect.” This song provides encouragement, and is delivered with some joy. “All that I needed was right here at my feet.” There is a good instrumental section in the middle. “Walk for a while in your own skin/This is a place where it all will begin/Just take a breath, just take your time.” “Start With A Stone” was written by Carrie Newcomer and John McCutcheon.

“Path Through The Evening Woods” begins with some pretty work on guitar. This track contains one of the album’s strongest vocal performances, plus some beautiful work on violin. The instrumental sections have a traditional folk vibe, which is appealing, and also fitting for the song’s subject. “I can sense the souls of those who’ve passed on/As I walk this path through the evening woods.” This is a gorgeous song. It’s followed by “Potluck,” which has a lighter, fun vibe, celebrating those moments when folks get together without any kind of agenda. “Just put it on the table/Next to the wine and beer/Don’t mind the mess/Glad you are here/Come in from the cold dark/And pull up a chair/Whatever you’ve brought on in/It’s welcome here.” Sure, ostensibly this song is about food, but clearly it has a wider sense than that. And I love that work on keys, followed by a cool lead on bass. I also appreciate the joy of this song. However, this song doesn’t forget the troubles or pretend they don’t exist, as Carrie sings, “Of all the troubles we’ve carried around/All of the losses we cannot seem to put down/It’s a quiet mercy.” Yes, she revisits the idea of a needed mercy here. This one has kind of a cute ending. “Potluck” was written by Carrie Newcomer and Siri Undlin.

“Take More Time, Cover Less Ground” features some pretty work on violin at the start. Here she sings, “Let me rest in the arms of these tangled roots/I’ve been wearing my longing like a backpack and boots.” There is a great beauty to this song, especially in her vocal delivery, but also in the violin. These lines stand out to me: “I’m surprised how these days so quickly pass/Not half empty or full, just a big old glass/Some answers don’t come, but it’s enough to ask.” This is one of my personal favorites. It is based on a line by Thomas Merton. That’s followed by “Singing In The Dark,” which was also inspired by Thomas Merton, as Carrie Newcomer sings, “Sitting in the silence, whilst all the world’s asleep/The monks of Gethsemani, the watch they daily keep/I’m a wayfaring stranger, hungry for some grace.” There is a gentle delivery here. This one was written by Carrie Newcomer and John McCutcheon. Then “A Book Of Questions” has a peaceful sound as it starts. Here she asks a series of questions, starting with rather simple, innocuous ones: “Do you put honey in your tea?/Do you let it cool gradually?” And the song grows from there: “Did you lose a lover or friend?/Was there a story that just had to end?/Did you finally learn what kept coming around again?/Did you work in a book store?/Are there things you don’t do anymore?” This song makes me think about how short life is, and how all these questions, as well as their answers, pass into nothing. It also makes me think of that line from the previous track, “Some answers don’t come, but it’s enough to ask.” I like that smaller questions are placed next to larger ones, all given equal weight, all part of this strange life we lead. This track features some beautiful work on strings and on piano.

The rhythm of “The Shape Of A Perfect Arc” makes me smile, and that’s only the first element of this song to have that effect. Those layered vocals and the violin work also do that. And I appreciate the baseball reference: “Like a ball that’s hit out of the park/In the shape of a perfect arc.” That’s followed by “A Tissue Or Two,” another pretty song. There is something soothing about this one. “Endings are tough/But enough is enough.” I love songs like this that seem to hold out a hand to us. “But mostly I recall/Your hand on mine/Saying it’s going to be all right/But it’s going to take time.” The album concludes with “Another Day,” a song of letting go and looking forward, a sort of lullaby for these strange times. “I’ve been looking for beauty in these broken times/I’m making some beauty in the world that I find/Some say it’s too late, there’s too much to brave/But I believe there’s so much worth being saved.” This is another of my personal favorites, a beautiful and moving song that reminds us “Tomorrow is another day.”

CD Track List

  1. A Great Wild Mercy
  2. Start With A Stone
  3. Path Through The Evening Woods
  4. Potluck
  5. Take More Time, Cover Less Ground
  6. Singing In The Dark
  7. A Book Of Questions
  8. The Shape Of A Perfect Arc
  9. A Tissue Or Two
  10. Another Day

A Great Wild Mercy is scheduled to be released on October 13, 2023 on Available Light Records.

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