The Sacred Garden
Listening Post 131. For an age of battered facts, closing doors and short attention spans, the folksinger-songwriter Carrie Newcomer is blessed with a superpower: Many talented singers can engage us and touch our heartstrings, but she has the ability, in a three-minute song, to locate and tie a ribbon around the better angels of our nature. The bard of Bloomington, Indiana, Newcomer gives full value to words like “spiritual” and finds the sacred not by looking toward the heavens but in the humanity and environment around her. (One exception: she has looked skyward in wonder to see “Hymns of geese fly overhead.”) Live at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, recorded on a hometown stage, is a garden of holy-earthly wisdom, with nine songs from her 2016 album The Beautiful Not Yet plus nine indelible favorites from the balance of her 25-year solo career—a career noteworthy for the constancy of her incisive lyrics, and melodies at once soothing and penetrating. Her Geodes—about nondescript rocks which, when cut open, reveal stunning crystal formations—is a metaphor for the unseen beauty nearby (video 1): “All these things that we call familiar,” she sings in her warm alto, “Are just miracles clothed in the commonplace/You’ll see it if you try in the next stranger’s eyes/That God walks ‘round in muddy boots, sometimes rags and that’s the truth/You can’t always tell, but sometimes you just know.” A Shovel Is a Prayer echoes her divine-in-the-quotidian theme (video 2), while You Can Do This Hard Thing, is a lesson to a child that becomes a lifetime of encouragement and endurance (video 3). An antidote for heartbreak, Sanctuary asks, “Will you be my refuge/My haven in the storm?” (video 4). The mystery is how Newcomer does her magic—making us slow down and see the splendor before us—in record time. (Available Light)
Geodes: ‘Round here we throw geodes in our gardens
They’re as common as the rain, or corn silk in July
Unpretentious browns and grays, the stain of Indiana clay,
They’re what’s left of shallow seas, glacial rock and mystery,
And inside there shines a secret bright as promise
All these things that we call familiar,
Are just miracles clothed in the commonplace
You’ll see it if you try in the next stranger’s eyes,
That God walks ’round in muddy boots, sometimes rags and that’s the truth,
You can’t always tell, but sometimes you just know
A Shovel is a Prayer: A shovel is a prayer/To the farmer’s foot,
When he steps down/And the soft earth gives way.
A baby is a prayer/When its finally asleep,
A whispered “Amen”/At the end of the day.
And a friend is a prayer/When they bring over soup,
When they laugh at your jokes/And they don’t ask for proof.
It’s a song that you sing/When you are alone,
When you’re weary or lonely/Or that far from home.
You Can Do This Hard Thing: There at the table/With my head in my hands
With a column of numbers/I just could not understand
You said, “Add these together/Carry the two/Now you.”
You can do this hard thing/You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know/But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing
At a cold winter station/Breathing into our gloves
It would change me forever/Leaving for God knows what
You carried my bags/You said “I’ll wait/For you.”
You can do this hard thing…
Sanctuary: Will you be my refuge/My haven in the storm
Will you keep the embers warm/When my fire’s all but gone?
Will you remember/And bring me sprigs of rosemary
Be my sanctuary/’Til I can carry on/Carry on/Carry on?
…In a state of true believers/On streets called us and them
Its gonna take some time/’Til the world feels safe again