Carrie Newcomer has a gift for writing character sketches of people who do not receive much notice in popular music, which was evident in her first recording, Visions and Dreams, with her treatment of modern-day immigrants (“Sounds of the Morning”). Last year, she released a best-of recording called Betty’s Diner that included the previously unreleased title track. “Betty’s Diner” is a brief glimpse into the working-class lives of people found in this fictional diner. With a few phrases, Newcomer is able to flesh out a three-dimensional image of the diner patrons.
Arthur lets his earl grey steep
Since April it’s been hard to sleep
You know they tried most everything
Yet it took her in the end
The diner patrons have returned in Newcomer’s latest offering, Regulars and Refugees. On the CD liner she writes, “After I’d written and recorded the song it became apparent that the diner people had more to say, and so arose a series of songs, poems and short stories written from the perspectives of different characters who frequent a hometown diner in southern Indiana.” She includes a written introduction to the characters of each song, ether as the narrator or from the perspective of the diner waitress, Miranda. The songs them selves come from a variety of perspectives ranging from the protagonists themselves to Arthur’s story, as told by the dog he and his Libby-dearest rescued from the pound (“Arthur B and Me”).
Newcomer’s musical style is sometimes country, sometimes folk, sometimes pop, but more often it’s a combination of all three. The composition and production quality of Regulars and Refugees is classic Newcomer, and does not disappoint. The stories themselves become the emphasis of the recording versus the traditional musical hook. Overall, I give it two thumbs up and a side of slaw.