Once upon a time, practically every decent-sized city had at least one singer/songwriter like Carrie Newcomer -- someone who wrote warm but pensive tunes about human relationships, spiritual yearning, and social responsibility that left no doubt they were boycotting the right products and playing the right community fundraisers. Of course, Newcomer was significantly better than most of them; she's a talented songwriter even if her observations are often a bit familiar, and she has a lovely voice and a graceful way with a melody. Now that your average coffeehouse demands something livelier in a folk singer, Newcomer's insistence on sticking to her creative guns makes her seem almost novel in the 21st century, and she's as firmly (and admirably) committed to her ideals as ever. In 2004, Rounder Records (who has been handling Newcomer's recordings since her 1991 debut album Visions and Dreams, released through their Philo imprint) issued a career-spanning collection titled Betty's Diner: The Best of Carrie Newcomer, but a mere eight years later, they're brought us Kindred Spirits: A Collection, another album designed to glean the gems from her back catalog. While Kindred Spirits largely focuses on Newcomer's late-'90s and 2000s work, it still overlaps frequently with the period covered on Betty's Diner, and even includes two of the same songs (though "Betty's Diner" does appear here in a new mix). In order to give fans something new, the disc includes two brand new selections ("The Speed of Soul" and "A Long Christmas Dinner"), as well as unreleased live recordings of "Bare to the Bone" and "Sparrow." Given the stylistic and thematic consistency of Newcomer's recordings over the past 20 years, Kindred Spirits flows together with the smooth assurance of a "real" album, and while it's a fair question if Newcomer truly needed another career retrospective, this summarizes her talents and her concerns as well as Betty's Diner, and anyone looking for an introduction to Newcomer's music would be well served with this sampler.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming