On tour to support her new compilation "Kindred Spirits," Newcomer has been playing shows in St. Louis for nearly 20 years. Last night her longtime followers came out to hear her perform on the wood-lined stage at the acoustically beautiful Sheldon Concert Hall. Even having performed here before Newcomer extolled the virtues of the venue: "The Sheldon is my favorite theater in the country." Whether it was pandering or the truth, everyone agrees the room is magical.
The 54-year old Newcomer brings a soulful voice and strong songwriting chops to her music. With lyrics influenced by writers, poets, academics and her surroundings, she demonstrates her skill as a true storyteller. Accompanied by pianist Gary Walters, an accomplished jazz and classical musician, Newcomer warmly entertained the crowd -- filled with teachers, activists and local non-profit organization workers -- with her original music and sly, humorous asides.
She began her 100-minute set with an upbeat strummer "Ghost Train," one of the few songs in the show not on the new compilation. Her song "I Believe" followed with its convictions about everyday life. The line, "There's a place in heaven for those who teach in public school" received a rousing applause from the educators in attendance.
Before beginning "Geode" she gave the audience a lesson in geology as she discussed the glaciers and their impact on the state of Indiana. She advised, "They are as common as corn, but yet they are a miracle." At times the room felt full of a new-age mysticism, and during other moments humor and life's trials and tribulations took the spotlight.
Newcomer continued with a new song, "Work of our Hands," which she said is right out of her notebook about a large group of her friends getting together and canning last fall and her memories of her grandmother. This song along with many others employed an intricate capo system that she uses on her guitar; at one point she asked for more light on stage so she could see the frets. Another new song, "The Speed of Soul," began as thoughts she had about a Native-American saying, "We should never travel faster in a day than our soul can keep up," and ended with time spent in a corner booth at a truck stop in Kansas. Inspiration comes from everywhere for the prolific songwriter.
As the set ebbed and flowed, the songs were fast and upbeat and also slow and melancholy. Mid-set, before she played "If Not Now," she joked that everyone in the audience was thinking, "This is a folk show -- I hope she does a sing-along," which got the audience laughing and looking to their friends and neighbors. But the best line of the night was when she advised, "The one rule in a folk sing-along is volume over accuracy."
While most of her songs fall into the category of folk or country, the upbeat "Breathe in, Breathe Out" comes as close to the singer-songwriter rock of the early '70s. Next she gave way to Walters as he took a solo turn on an instrumental jazzy composition that could work well as part of a score to a movie. She followed his turn with the nostalgic "I'll Go Too," a song she revealed is about her dad.
At the end she brought humor back with her song about animal groupings, "A Crash of Rhinoceros," and finished with a spiritual number that seemed to sum up the evening, "The Gathering of Spirits."
To finish the night Newcomer brought out opener Jenna Lindbo to help her on an encore of "Air and Smoke." As tangible as music is in its physical form, it only occupies the air and space for so long. Newcomer went one step further last night; she inhabited the mind, body and soul as well. The true mark of a strong and dynamic performer.
Opening the evening with her cheery personality was Oregon native and current Asheville, N.C. resident, Jenna Lindbo, touring in support of her sophomore album "Jasmine Parade." During her 30-minute set Lindbo demonstrated her musical prowess over five songs on acoustic guitar, piano and her banjo named Annabelle. The singer uses a sweet breathy delivery, but occasionally belting the lyrics for effect. This, however, can get her into trouble at times as her voice got a bit squeaky in places.
After leading off her set with "Instrumental Role," a song about life's uncertainties, Lindbo excitedly told the audience, "I'm thrilled to be in St. Louis tonight. I love that a lot of people greet you with a hug." With an ever-present smile, Lindbo exudes the enthusiasm of a new kindergarten teacher, as evidenced by her excitement when he told the audience about playing for a large group of pre-school students in University City the day before.
As she introduced her song "Red Bird," however, Lindbo made a St. Louis faux pas as she mentioned that as an Oregon native she'd never seen a cardinal before moving east. Yes, the inevitable groan from the crowd was audible.
As she continued the short set her songs became stronger and the vibe sweeter. "Rainy Day Medicine" captured her time jotting down experiences as she worked in a cafe, while "Thank You Jane" was a beautiful tribute to the mother of her piano teacher. Lindbo ended her set with "Let There Be Love," a hopeful sing-along in the folk tradition plucked on her trusty banjo.
Carrie Newcomer set list:
Work of Our Hands
The Speed of Soul
If Not Now
Breathe in Breathe Out
Instrumental (Gary Walters on piano)
I'll Go Too
A Crash of Rhinoceros
The Gathering of Spirits
Air and Smoke (duet with Jenna Lindbo)
Jenna Lindbo set list:
Rainy Day Medicine
Thank You Jane
Let There Be Love