Carrie Newcomer’s cool fusion of East and West hooks listeners

New York: You don’t hear any road-weariness in well-travelled American singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer’s voice when she talks about touring. That’s because she loves “the personality of places.” She first toured India in 2009 and was drawn to India’s outsized personality. She came back home to Indiana with a notebook filled with India’s sights and sounds.

Newcomer now has a new album out, Everything is Everywhere, a collaboration with three of the best sarod players in the world, Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Amaan and Ayaan. While being an artist-in-residence at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, Newcomer casually shared music and ideas at the Khan home one afternoon. Then one thing just led to another.

“At that first meeting it became apparent that even though Indian classical and western singer-songwriter forms are very different, there was a shared spirit in our works. When Amjad Ali Khan sang a traditional Indian melody that first afternoon in the Khan family studio I found myself weeping. I didn’t understand the words, but I was powerfully moved by the depth and soul of the music,” Newcomer told Firstpost.

Carrie Newcomer. Available Light Records

“That same afternoon I sang one of my songs called "The Gathering of Spirits." When I finished the song I saw that Ayaan's lovely wife Neema had tears in her eyes. Music is a language deeper than words. It was a beautiful experience working with Amjad, Amaan and Ayaan,” added Newcomer.

Not since George Harrison played the song, "Norwegian wood" on the Sitar in 1965 has there been so much serious interest in an Indian/Western contemporary fusion album. The range of Newcomer’s voice is very low. For years reviewers have compared her voice to “dark chocolate.” There is something about the sound of a woman's voice singing in those deep lower ranges and the beautiful resonate low tones of the sarod that are surprisingly complimentary.

When I mentioned to Newcomer that one of the younger Khans had observed that the way she plays slide guitar is very similar to the way that they play the sarod, she was amused but very pleased.

“I have always tuned my guitar in alternative tunings that incorporated drone strings and have played with a rhythmic style that feels similar to sarod stylings. It was a wonderful discovery. The first time I toured in India it felt like I'd been writing my whole life for the Indian listeners,” said Newcomer.

“When writing for this album, two of the songs were composed on a traditional American folk instrument call the mountain dulcimer which has several droning strings and can have a slide feel to it as well.”

All nine songs on "Everything is Everywhere" were written for this specific collaboration. “The idea was to create songs that were based in western song form, but would integrate and preserve the power, depth and energy of Indian music. I did not want to create western songs, add a tabla and call it fusion,” said Newcomer. “The idea was to truly expand all our musical edges and create something totally new and unique. I believe we accomplished that.”

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Amjad, Amaan and Ayaan came to Bloomington in 2010 to record with Newcomer, Grammy-nominated percussionist Jim Brock and pianist Gary Walters. They built on the songs and basic tracks created by Newcomer since her return from India. The album’s finishing touches were completed by sharing audio files over the Internet after the Khans’ left America.

“We needed to be willing to try new things. We are all accomplished in our individual musical careers; we all do what we do very well. But this required we take risks and expand how we approached a song," said Newcomer.

Carrie Newcomer performing with Amjad Ali Khan and his sons, Amaan and Ayaan. Available Light Record

“I think we all loved being able to find that new and creative musical edge that could propel a song like “Breathe In, Breathe Out" or touch the heart like "I Believe" or "Everything is Everywhere." We really didn't know when we went into the studio if the collaboration would work. But from the very first notes it was apparent something magical was happening,” added Newcomer.

Newcomer who has over 12 solo albums under her belt was included on Boston's radio station, WUMB’s list of the “Top Most Influential Artists” of the past 25 Years. Newcomer’s latest album with the Khans hit US stores on Tuesday and reviewers have been generous with their praise. The album was released in India ahead of the US release.

The “Indianapolis Star” said “some sarod passages on "Everything" might be mistaken for the twang of a Dobro or banjo, yet the Khans also showcase explosive shifts in rhythm and heady jazz excursions.”

Marg Herder, a well-known recording artist and owner of Softsound, said the album's first song, "Breathe In, Breathe Out," had her hooked and she turned it up so she could hear the nuance of the mix: “The playing, loose and free, piques your interest. Moments later, the sarod foreshadows the vocal melody. Enter Jim Brock's percussion work. Here he crafts a beat that practically dares you to keep from bobbing your head. Thickly layered, chant-like vocals start. Ah, there's the sound of a strumming guitar. The sarod solo now sounds familiar. And just like that, East meets West. It fits. It's a Carrie Newcomer song, expanded in way we've not heard before.”

Watch the promo video of the album Everything is Everywhere: