Carrie Newcomer’s new album, “The Beautiful Not Yet”, does not depart from the musical or lyrical trajectory which has marked the artist for more than a decade. Newcomer is not a trivial song-writer; she has a way of making the ordinary and every-day become sacred and precious. The “Beautiful Not Yet” seems to me to be one of her more overtly spiritual and hopeful albums with songs such as Lean in Toward the Light, Help in Hard Times, You Can Do this Hard Thing, Where the Light Comes Down, and of course the title track itself. As a professor of practical theology, I say, “this is good theology”, which cannot be said for the majority of albums out there! In many ways it is a theme album rather than a collection of disparate songs. I see that as the strength of the album: it holds together and it is going somewhere hopeful.
Her trademark theme of embracing the sacred in the ordinary on many of her albums comes through in almost every song on this album but particularly in the poignancy of “Three Feet or So” reminding us that we don’t have to look far to see God’s blessings as well as “A Shovel is a Prayer” which explores the theme of “practicing the presence of God.”
Unfortunately, the companion book does not add much to the album for me other than having song lyrics in readable sized font. The poems are, as she explains, often the raw material for her song lyrics, and the very short essays just explain in prose what she has shared in poetry and lyric. I do love her commencement address though! It nicely wraps up all of her song lyrics over the years in three points: be kind, be true, and pay attention.
Musically she also stays with the tried and true folk and roots formula which is an appropriate flesh and bone for the soul of her lyrics. My favourite musical moment is when the background singers chime in with “Lean in toward the light” on the opening song but it does not really get much more adventurous than that musically; and, perhaps it does not need to.
The shadows of this world will say,
There’s no hope—why try anyway?
But every kindness large or slight,
Shifts the balance toward the light.