Carrie Newcomer has been making strong Heartland folk-rock beneath the shadow of fellow local John Mellencamp in Bloomington, Ind., for a decade now.
After eight albums of delicately spiritual strums and eloquent rhymes, Philo Records has compiled some of the singer-songwriter's best work on Betty's Diner: The Best of Carrie Newcomer.
Bringing comparisons to everyone from Lyle Lovett to Nancy Griffith, Newcomer writes both heartwrenching and whimsical folk-rock; Betty's Diner is a great introduction for those who like their songs colored with a Midwest twang. The disc includes three new songs, as well as her duet with Alison Krauss, "The Gathering of Spirits." For more info (and a pretty cool Web design), check out www.carrienewcomer.com.
If you like your "twang" with a heavier backbeat, check out the new live album from New Jersey's Antigone Rising, who, after three independent studio CDs, recently signed a deal with a major label.
With some whiskey in the vocals and some Led Zeppelin in their guitars (they close this disc with a cover of LZ's "Rock N' Roll"), this all-girl band offers a rootsy bar-rock disc in Antigone Rising's Traveling Circus on Gurly Records. From its extended guitar jams on "Storybook Romance" to the melancholy country of "Longshot," Antigone Rising evokes shades of Beth Hart, Janis Joplin and Melissa Etheridge.
The band has spent lots of time on the road honing its act over the past couple of years, opening for moe, Joan Jett, O.A.R., Vertical Horizon and Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and you can catch their live set as headliners tomorrow night at Schuba's in Chicago. For more information, see www.antigonerising.com.
After the down-and-out lyrics of Etheridge's last disc, 2001's "breakup" album Skin, the smack-crack of the opening drumbeat and guitars on Lucky signals a change a-comin'.
From the upbeat hope of "Lucky" ("I wanna see how lucky Lucky can be/I want to ride with my Angel and live shockingly") to the secretive passion of the beautiful piano ballad "Meet Me in the Dark," Lucky celebrates the dawn of new passion, and new life.
Etheridge has always managed to combine a strong rock riff attack with insightful lyricism, and on "When You Find the One" she perfectly captures the beauty of trust in a relationship: "When you find the one/there's no questioning the silence/All is said and done/when you find the one."
She has some drum-pounding fun with her "alternative" lifestyle in the bass-groovin' "Secret Agent" when she sings of her lesbian lover: "All the boys want to know if she's got something to hide/all the girls are relieved she's working for the other side." She also belts out a steamy call for passion in the demandingly rockin' "Kiss Me."
Etheridge does sing of estrangement in the first radio single, "Breathe," but this melancholy is an anomaly on Lucky; and not only is it lyrically different from much of the rest of this disc, it's also the first time Etheridge has released a song she didn't write on her albums.
After 15 years, a handful of hits and a couple of Grammy statues, Etheridge has a well-established sound, and Lucky doesn't alter it. From the arena-rock vibe of "Breathe" and "Giant" to the confessional silences of "Meet Me in the Dark" and the light guitar picking of the closing hymn, "Come on Out Tonight," Etheridge's latest batch of 13 songs will feel both familiar and satisfyingly new for fans. This is a Lucky batch of 13 indeed.
Etheridge is promoting Lucky with a small club tour this month. She'll take up residence at Chicago's House of Blues March 18-21.