Here's a shocking secret that must be confessed to my Sojourners friends: Before hearing her latest album, My Father's Only Son, I had never listened to the music of folk-pop artist Carrie Newcomer.
How I managed to escape the grace of Newcomer's powerful vocals and heartfelt lyrics the past few years is difficult to explain. Let's just call it a stage of musical ignorance. (Now that I've been claimed as a loyal follower, I'll do my penance with a few rosaries for those who remain in the Newcomerless purgatory.)
Distributed by the Philo Records arm of the Rounder Records Group (Rounder also produces country music goddess Alison Krauss, among other hard-working alternative artists), My Father's Only Son is Newcomer's fourth album. It was produced by Robert Meitus, Newcomer's husband, and Mark Williams, who has also worked with pop music phenomenon Hootie the Blowfish.
A remarkably personal performer, Newcomer does not disappoint her fans with this release: Similar to past offerings, this album's songs include tender ballads about her parents and her child, rollicking anthems to romance, and fervent messages about the environment, social responsibility, and spirituality.
Newcomer doesn't limit her melodies either: Tunes range from the pure folk of "My Father's Only Son" to the zydeco-Cajun "You Can Choose" to the twangy country of "Crazy in Love" and "I'm Not Thinking of You."
Accordions and mandolins are heard among the guitars, basses, and drums, but the strongest of all the instruments on this production is Newcomer's rich voice-a deep, velvet alto that caresses each lyric. It's surprising to hear such power emerge from her small frame.
Newcomer is most solid and convincing when she sings about personal connections. The title song is a beautiful piece about her position as the one of three daughters who accepted the mantle of being their father's fishing companion: "Summertime in Allen County/You can slice the air like bread/Pack up our old Rambler/With cane poles and little said." She sings about her mother, long deceased, and their unbreakable connection in "The Rooms My Mother Made," which is immediately followed by "Amelia Almost 13," Newcomer's song of love, support, and encouragement to her adolescent daughter ("You're all long legs and long hair/And big wide eyes/With a hundred million questions/And a thousand hundred whys/And I wish I had the answers/But the best that I can give/Is to be a safe place for you/As long as you live").
There is a tribe of fiercely loyal Newcomer fans. Perhaps My Father's Only Son is the album to multiply their numbers.
JUDY COODE is administrative assistant at the Maryknoll Justice and Peace Office in Washington, D.C. She was a Sojourners intern six years ago, and has no excuse for not knowing previously about Carrie Newcomer.