Carrie Newcomer

The Age of Possibility

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"This was written for someone I love in pretty tough circumstances," Carrie Newcomer writes as an introduction to the final song on her sixth studio album, but the description could refer to most of the songs here on which she displays a determined optimism that acknowledges the grittier side of life. Singing in her throaty, resonant alto over folk-rock tracks, she suggests the travails of love and life but always comes out on the side of carrying on and trying again. "When It's Gone It's Gone" may lament the loss of everything from railroads to cheap gas, but it also celebrates a kind of spiritual continuity, while "Tornado Alley" uses the risk of living in a storm-threatened area as a metaphor for life in general. Such songs display a craftsmanlike quality to Newcomer's writing, but they are somewhat impersonal, generalizing their points in a way that blunts the message. Over and over, Newcomer seems to have been inspired by some real-life incident that never gets into the song, which ends up being a procession of abstractions, clich├ęd images, and platitudes. She works up some anger in "It's Not OK," for example, but what is it she's talking about exactly? Even that final song dedicated to the person in tough circumstances is called "This Too Will Pass," which may be comforting to him or her, but is trite and derivative to the listener. Newcomer is much better in "Just Like Downtown," an autobiographical account of growing up in the Midwest, but even here she quickly switches from the specific to general statements. As such, her songs come off as the residue of experiences that are not themselves described. It's possible that listeners may respond to such songs if they can fill the gap, imagining for themselves what it is that's not OK, or what needs to pass, by conjuring up their own experiences. But that's asking a lot. Newcomer would do well to fill in more of the details in her songs if she wants her meanings to bear weight.

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