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Folk Singer Carrie Newcomer's New CD Looks For Hope In Hard Times

Singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer is perhaps to the Midwest what Bruce Springsteen is the the New Jersey shore.

Her lyrics evoke not only a landscape, but a Midwestern sensibility of neighborliness and an appreciation for tradition, common sense and the land.

Her rich alto voice, acoustic guitar work and knack for capturing the sacred in the ordinary have delighted Twin City audiences for decades.

The Indiana-based folk singer has a new CD with accompanying book of poems, lyrics and essays called "The Beautiful Not Yet." It may be her most spiritual work yet. Newcomer says it would be hard to separate her spiritual yearnings from her music.

"The reason why there's a spiritual current in my work is because there is a spiritual current in my life. If that current wasn't present in the work, I would be censoring something very important about how I walk around in the world and experience my life," she said.

Speaking on GLT's "Sound Ideas," Newcomer said she encounters a spiritual hunger across the country, even in this politically divided time.

"There is a longing for authentic spiritual conversation that doesn't blink the hard stuff, and at the same time, has a sense or conversation about the goodness of the world, about compassion, hope and kindness."

The title of the CD and new book, "The Beautiful Not Yet," she said, refers to "living in the now, and about the sacredness of the present moment."

She described walking in the woods in southern Indiana where she lives.

"There's  a time when the last snow has happened and the first buds haven't opened up yet. A lot of people would say that's not a very pretty time of year , but I was walking around and noticed the light was coming in in a way that doesn't happen any other time of year," she recalled.

"It was clean and cool  and there were no leaves, so there was nothing to encumber it. And you could sense this moment of awakening, and there was something so beautiful about it."

Several of the songs are based on conversations she said she has had with one of her spiritual mentors, the theologian and writer Parker Palmer. Like Newcomer, Palmer is a practicing Quaker.

"Neither of one of us were raised Quaker, both of us found our way to the Quaker community later in life," Newcomer said.

"There is an interesting sensibility that goes with that, first of all an attention to silence. We live in such a busy culture we are never encouraged to reflect or stop even."

The Quaker beliefs, she said, stress stresses simplicity, hospitality, compassion and consensus, the desire for more peaceful living and more community exchange. These values, Newcomer said,  "are not being talked about much at the current moment," she added.

Newcomer decried the lack of compassion she said she sees coursing through the country's political discourse. Her new book contains an essay entitled, "Be Kind, Be True, Pay Attention." The essay began as a graduation address she delivered at Goshen College. 

"I thought about what is it I would have wanted someone to tell me at 21," Newcomer said. "This idea of being true to yourself and listening to your heart, the idea of kindness that kindness as being a great power in the world."

Songs on Carrie Newcomer's new CD "The Beautiful Not Yet" stress the need for compassion.

"Sometimes I talk about kindness as being the country cousin to love. Love is big and sometimes gets almost too unwieldy to talk about It gets too big to talk about. But kindness is daily and personal."

This new songs, she said, explore where does help come from in hard times, what is it that sustains us."

Despite the struggles facing the country, Newcomer said she has hope for the future.

"Not a candy-coated or positive thinking hope, but hope that is pretty gritty where you get up in the morning and try again and make the world a kinder place, and you get up the next day and do it again, and you are disappointed, but you get up again . Its' about hope that is faithful and risky, because you risk having your heart broken."

In one song, called "Three Feet Or So," Newcomer says change doesn't necessarily require a grand gesture, but can happen in any small sphere in which we find ourselves. 

"We have enormous power in just how we walk around every day, that we can have great impact three feet in front of us. Perhaps it's only way true positive change happens," she said.

Newcomer said she is often disheartened by the political news of the day, which, she said, "screams 'be afraid, there are no bridges.'"

Newcomer said there is "a different news" that comes from within the heart.

"There is a news within us and between us. And the things that have always saved us ... simple kindness and beauty, these things did not go away because we are living in a particularly brutal political season."

Newcomer will be performing November 18 at the Old Town School of Music in Chicago.