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Music Review: Carrie Newcomer – Before and After

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“Dust settles after a hit and run / Bewildered by the damage done / I don’t know how we choose the road we travel / Or how a life can get so unraveled".

With these words Carrie Newcomer welcomes us to her new release, Before and After, setting the tone for what is to come: reflections of an intensely personal nature along with observations on the human spirit. What do we gain along the way? What do we lose by taking chances?

In “Ghost Train” we are given the sage advice that “sometimes there is nothing left to do but to pack it up and move along”. Knowing when something is over is in itself a reward.

As the songs roll on, similar sentiments dot this musical landscape. Since Ms. Newcomer’s true strength lies in her words, her observations never become maudlin-all the more reason a lyric sheet would have been a welcome addition to this release.

After awhile, the songs begin to drift into one another, which, because the lyrics are so strong, is disappointing. The sameness of the melodies is the major drawback to this work.

Ms. Newcomer does take a single opportunity to shake things up a bit, surprising and delighting with “If Not Now”, a song with an old time spiritual feel. It made me wish more chances had been taken with the music on this release. Playing it safe does not do justice to Ms. Newcomer's formidable talents as a lyricist.

This is Ms. Newcomer’s twelfth album for Rounder Records, recorded and produced by Newcomer and David Weber at Airtime Studios. The musicianship is strong throughout with Newcomer playing acoustic guitar and bouzouki. She is backed by a core of musicians who have played with her on many of her other albums. Mary Chapin Carpenter makes a guest appearance, adding her vocal talents to the title track.

Although Before and After is not a musically adventurous work, I would recommend it for its concept and Ms.Newcomer’s voice, which is mellow and rich and ultimately listenable.

Before and Afterwill be released on February 23, 2010.

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