Carrie Newcomer’s “A Great Wild Mercy” Reviewed by James Diaz
And what of music more parts prayer than sermon, of notes that begin and end in a question, while holding hope, thought soon to come or merely glimpsed from afar, close to the heart? Does not the mere listening open up something inside of us so hard to get at in other ways? Now you might be asking yourself what chance hope has these days. And who could blame you. One look at the news and there be a great sinking feeling rising in the chest. But there is another news, it travels from heart to heart, town to town, in the small and ordinary moments of our shared lives together. In A Great Wild Mercy, it is these moments Carrie Newcomer hones in on. In the title track, Newcomer sings: “I'm tired of all the rage, tired of all the worry / I'm ready for a great wild mercy”, "May we all forgive" tattooed on an arm, “sensing an ever present goodness,” while sifting through the “stories that'll heal us and the ones we let go” from the first song we are drawn towards a warmer center with an acknowledgement that’s it’s a hard world that we must find ways to soften into. Rage is part of us, and yet there is more. Perhaps mercy modulates rage. In keeping with the spirit of this album I’ll leave it at “perhaps.”
In the second song, “Start with a Stone”, we’re clued in on where to begin in this mercy work. “There it was in the places / I did not expect,” “start with a stone / the humblest of things,” “Just take a breath, just take your time, / First you are human and then you’re divine,” “go back to the source / go back to your home / Heaven is waiting / but start with a stone.” What can I do? Who has not asked themselves this before, and despairing that there seems so little that one can do to effect any kind of change, in our own or others lives, in the world, we opt for safety and do nothing. But what if we were already caught up in the work of transformation without even knowing it? It was a small quite ordinary thing perhaps, but we have all probably found ourselves starting with the stones in our lives, and widening the frame, you begin to see that all that work adds up to something. It’s hard to say what at first, but the feeling is that more will be revealed so long as we keep returning to home base, moving through the world as true and as kind as we can, and paying attention, doing what we can do where we can.
In one of my favorite songs on the album, “Potluck,” Newcomer sings: “sometimes you gotta trust / whatever people bring,” “all their joys” and “all their sorrows” that it all has a place in the fabric of human community. And like characters in a short story so beautifully fleshed out, we are introduced to “Louise [who] made those deviled eggs, / On the edge of a heart break. / Johnny [who] picked up a bag of chips, / Because he had nothing at home to take. / Audrey [who] brought all the kids, / With cookies as a bribe, / Paul [who] hesitates at the door, / Before he finally walks inside.” “Potluck” is brimming with life, love and laughter, all while making room for heartache, loneliness, moments of doubt and hesitation, but most of all invitation, room at the table.
In “A Tissue or Two” where Carrie sings of being cared for by her mother while sick as a child, a larger metaphor creeps in for the care that we all need no matter our age, the care the world herself is asking for, and the care that we’re all capable of providing in one small form or another. It begins in kindness. “You never know how long a kindness might last, / Like a bell in the distance, or an echo from the past… Love holds steady / And still rings true, / In a world where we all / Could use a tissue or two.”
In the closing song, “Another Day” Newcomers sings, in a fitting addendum to an album that has opened for the listener so many fruitful questions of possible hope waiting to be answered to amidst despair: “I’ve been looking for beauty / In these broken times, / By making some beauty / In the world that I find. / Some say it's no use, / It's too much to brave. / But I believe there’s still / So much worth being saved. / Let it go says my heart / It's too late and too dark, / This is just a chance to pray. / Let it go for now darlin' / Tomorrow is another day.”
Tomorrow is another day. When one feels the day has been to no avail, that it’s been more fit than start, that one has come completely apart, that now that “it’s too late and too dark” and there is afforded to us just this small moment for a prayer, whatever form that takes in a life, we send it out, equal parts hope and despair, that there is something we might’ve missed that could reveal itself to us tomorrow.
A Great Wild Mercy is a beautiful album of such gentle wisdom, of ordinary, which is to say extraordinary lives, grappling with the complexities of the world while yearning also for the simplicities of the heart at work in the everyday. Whether this is your first time listening to Carrie Newcomer, or you are a returning traveler to this musical country, there is bound to be much that you will carry away with you from this album that feels so precious, so personal, and so profound. It is a record of immense hope, and who among us is without need for just a little bit of hope right about now.
A Great Wild Mercy releases this Friday 10 / 13 and is available at https://www.carrienewcomer.com/music
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