March 11, 2010

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Carrie Newcomer, Before & After
Rounder Records, Feb. 23

You know you’ve been waiting for me to get all Richard Simmons about some soft folkie record, and I shan’t hold 2010 in breathless detention. Guitarist/singer Newcomer’s been around a long time, slogging through exclusively on Rounder since 1991 from what I see, hence if her name’s news to you you’re definitely not alone. Simply some jaw-dropping songwriting here, arranged carefully and beautifully, thoughtfulness in every passage (she did a Euro/U.S. tour with Alison Krauss as a solo debutante and would appear to have kept artistic pace all these years). In the long run, what she is — and this may have hindered her becoming household news — is Anne Murray 2.0: she’s possessed of the same loose-lipped, bosomy tonality, barely enunciating her Rs, exploring great depth in her lyrics. The album opens mindfully with an unplugged fractal fade-in to the stunning title track (guested by Mary Chapin Carpenter) and simply never lets go from there, hauntingly openhearted — give this a couple of listens and it’ll soon be in your keeper stack. A+ Eric W. Saeger