Corrections or additions?

This article by Richard J. Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

September 23, 1998. All rights reserved.

Folk’s Newcomer — Not

Indiana-based guitarist and singer-songwriter Carrie

Newcomer writes songs from the heart, without a lot of smoke and

mirrors.

Her songs are easy to interpret, and her growing numbers of music

fans prove they like it that way.

On "My True Name," her new album from Rounder Records, on

a song called "When One Door Closes (Another One Opens Wide),"

she could be talking about one love relationship or she could be

talking

to thousands of working men and women around the country. In either

case, most of Newcomer’s songs are simple and direct expressions of

pain and hope. There’s not a lot of ambiguity, and that’s the beauty

of it.

"It’s really a no-holds-barred kind of music, and it’s not cryptic

at all," says Newcomer, whose country-folk-pop band is coming

to Hightstown Saturday, September 26. "I call it like I see it,

and hopefully, people find differing ways to interpret my songs."

Unlike a lot of contemporary folk singers, Newcomer isn’t afraid to

write autobiographical songs. "I don’t think there’s enough

honesty

out there, and maybe that’s why I’ve chosen to write in this

fashion,"

she says. "I write about what has been really joyous and what

have been some of the great griefs of my life. It’s always going to

be pretty open with me. I feel so thankful when people E-mail me and

say how much they enjoyed this song or that song," says Newcomer,

who includes her E-mail address in the liner notes to her new CD.

Newcomer was born and raised in Elkhart, Indiana, an industrial town

not far from Chicago. As a kid, she recalls listening to — and

loving — everything from the blues radio stations in Chicago to

Motown and the Beatles. She’s been living in Bloomington for the past

seven years.

"Bloomington is a like a little Amherst," she says, in a phone

interview. "Throughout the Midwest there are these little bastions

of culture — and in this part of Indiana, it’s Bloomington."

The town is home to the University of Indiana, a school that has one

top-notch jazz band and one of the best music programs in the nation.

"For a tiny town in Indiana, there’s a great music scene and a

lot of opportunities for musicians here," she adds. "I’ve

never really had any trouble finding places to play here. Also

Chicago,

Cincinnati, and Cleveland are not far from here."

When school is in session, Bloomington is about 75,000 people, she

estimates. "It’s not a huge town, but there are a multitude jazz

and folk clubs," she says. While it’s no singer-songwriter mecca

like Boston, Austin, or Nashville, Bloomington does have a variety

of cultural activities, and Newcomer wanted to raise her daughter

with a lot of exposure to the arts. Newcomer and her husband, Robert

Mitas, are raising her daughter from her first marriage, which ended

in divorce.

"It was very important to me that I live in a place where she

could get enough music and art and theater and they have a lot of

really wonderful kids programs here," she says. "We have this

little place in the woods outside of town on about seven acres. I

love to travel and visit Seattle or have a day off in New York or

Boston or Austin. But when the tour is over, I really appreciate

coming

home."

Mitas manages the Carrie Newcomer Band and attends law school at the

same time. "He’s a really inspiring person who grabs life with

both hands," she says. She met Mitas, a native of Indiana, at

a small folk festival in Bloomington when he was attending graduate

school at Columbia University in New York.

"He had to come back because his grandmother lived here and he

would go back and forth from New York to Indiana; we kind of fell

in love through letters," she explains. The couple married in

1994. That same year, Rounder Records took notice of Newcomer’s

following

and the numbers she was selling on her first two, self-produced,

self-released

albums. Rounder picked up her second album and distributed it. The

Massachusetts-based record company did so well that it signed her

to a multi-album deal.

Newcomer has been performing professionally since 1980, but as far

back as the 1970s, when she was in high school, she played bars in

Michigan, not far from Elkhart.

Even though she was painfully shy in her younger years,

she says, "the first places I had paying gigs were up in Michigan,

where I could lie about my age and get in — until my parents found

out what I was doing." She went to college for visual arts, but

found that she kept coming back to song writing and singing.

"I had to learn how to perform," she explains, "the

performing

part kind of came through the back door for me. The fact that I’m

doing this now, and I’ve come to a place where I’m a performer —

people who knew me as a kid might be surprised and smile now."

"There was something in me that really had this passion for music.

What happened was I had to find a way to make it work here," she

recalls of her early years, booking herself into coffee houses and

folk festivals around the Midwest.

That was hard at first, she admits, but being resourceful and

determined,

she produced two albums on her own label with her own trio. By the

early 1990s, she was making her presence known on the East Coast with

extensive touring from Boston to North Carolina. When she was back

home in Indiana, through the late 1980s, she gave guitar lessons to

pay the rent.

Was there a point in the late 1980s, when she was struggling to raise

her daughter as a single mom and make ends meet, when she considered

scrapping it all and taking a day job? "Absolutely. There are

many times in any career, if you’re an artist or musician, when you

think about this.

"Those of us in folk music don’t go into this thinking, `Gosh,

I think I’ll go out there and be rich and famous.’ Most of us got

into this because we didn’t have a choice, there was something calling

us. After I divorced I had to think very seriously in terms of was

my daughter going to be all right financially. There are ups and downs

in this business, and I’m not a person who has a really tough

exterior."

Fortunately, fans of the "new country" or "alternative

country" are embracing Newcomer’s soft exterior and music via

the video for a song from "My True Name." It’s currently

airing

on Country Music Television. But still, it’s CMT’s `alternative

country’

program, where the cable channel airs `Americana’ artists like Lucinda

Williams, Dave Alvin, and Katy Moffatt, all of whom blur the lines

between folk, country, and blues with original songs.

"There’s such amazingly interesting stuff happening on the edges

that is not going to fit into any mainstream music form. Now, at least

with the Americana format in radio, there’s an opportunity for people

to hear the music."

In Hightstown on September 26, Newcomers’ band will include guitarist

Keith Scooglund, Steve Mascari on bass, and Jamey Reid on drums and

percussion. Newcomer says her band is able to alternate between

pulling

back — playing sensitively and quietly — as well as rocking

out.

Meanwhile, what does Newcomer make of all the comparisons between

herself and Mary Chapin Carpenter and Kathy Mattea, two of country

music’s top stars who emerged from the folk tradition?

"I did a show with Mary recently. She’s a very gracious person

to work with. I think my music is more roots-based, and sometimes

I think I get a little more nitty-gritty," she says.

Newcomer’s country-folk-pop touches many people. Ultimately, that’s

what’s most important to her. And answering her E-mail. "If

there’s

any theme that prevails through my music, it’s a real love for people

and how they grow and change and make mistakes and heal and

evolve,"

she says. And since she doesn’t mind baring her soul to her audience,

writing from her own experience, her audience continues to grow. Such

honesty is refreshing.

— Richard J. Skelly

The Carrie Newcomer Band and Stephen Fearing, Outta Sights

& Sounds, Grace Norton Rogers School, Stockton Street, Hightstown,

609-259-5764. $15. Saturday, September 26, 8 p.m.


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