CD blends spirituality from different cultures

Carrie Newcomer - Everything is Everywhere

Carrie Newcomer - Everything is Everywhere

Carrie Newcomer
Everything is Everywhere
Available Light Records

Fans of Carrie Newcomer’s folksy style who buy her newest CD, Everything is Everywhere, and don’t read the jacket carefully, may think that they’ve ended up with the wrong CD.

The first minute is instrumental; the sound is Eastern and exotic. Then a melody gradually emerges, and Ms. Newcomer’s earthy voice slides in seamlessly. That’s when listeners know they’ve got Ms. Newcomer, all right—but she’s not in Indiana anymore.

Everything is Everywhere is a work of musical and spiritual fusion. Ms. Newcomer collaborated with Amjad Ali Khan, Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan, the pre-eminent Indian family of musicians who play the sarod, a classical Indian string instrument (similar to a sitar, but with a lower range).

The result is a series of haunting melodies that blend both East and West, expressing a spirituality that transcends doctrine, time and place. Ms. Newcomer, who is a Quaker, plays deftly with ambiguity and contradiction, and that works well in this collaboration.

Lyrics like these, in “Breathe In, Breathe Out,” express mystical truths in plain-clothes language: “To live we learn what we love most / embrace it all and hold it close / breathe it in and breathe it out, let it go.” Similarly, “Air and Smoke” creates a word picture that might overlay just as easily over the image of a church sanctuary as a Hindu temple: “And the veil of night keeps falling / but the God of love keeps calling. / And our voices keep on rising / like prayers of air and smoke.”

The songs that work best on Everything is Everywhere are those that conjure up images that are vivid and immediate, yet timeless.
Listeners can picture Ms. Newcomer singing “May We Be Released” on the back porch of her home in Indiana just as easily as in a hall in New Delhi: “May the unseen world be present, / invoked into your life. / May you have the strength to question / the things you thought were right. / May you sense the light around / the very old and very young. / May you go ahead and quit / what you should never have begun.”

The CD is weakest in a few songs where Ms. Newcomer’s lyrics seem too rooted in one time and place. “I Believe” stumbles on lyrics like these: “I believe in socks and gloves knit out of soft, gray wool, / and that there’s a place in heaven for those who teach in public school.”
Or: “I believe in jars of jelly, put up by careful hands. / I believe most folks are doing just about the best they can.” Fine sentiments that might work well on Ms. Newcomer’s other albums, but here they hit notes that seem so folksy that the riffs on the sarod start to sound a little too much like a twangy banjo.

In contrast, songs like “Everything is Everywhere” work best, when Ms. Newcomer focuses on the mysterious and mystical: “Love is love, it’s here and there. / Everything is everywhere.” Or when they speak to the universal human condition, like these words in “Breathe In, Breathe Out”: “I held anger like a coal / burning hot, but did not let go / with the thought that I could throw it at someone. / Such a hard lesson to learn, / my own hand is what got burned.”

As a Quaker and as someone (to quote her lyrics from an earlier album) “whose life’s been spent between what is said and what is meant,” Ms. Newcomer is a gifted wordsmith who also knows the limits of words. She is comfortable with silence, and she uses it eloquently in her music. Aptly, the last song on the CD, “Fountain of Love,” blends voices and instruments, but no lyrics.

Thus, the last word of Everything is Everywhere is no words, and that speaks volumes.

Mary Jacobs, Staff Writer – mjacobs@umr.org 

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