On the cover of new album "Before & After," singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer is pictured as a train passenger.
The idea of travel fits a collection of songs based on phantom locomotives, roadside peaches in Georgia and Indiana festivals devoted to sweet corn in Oakland City, marshmallows in Ligonier and scarecrows in Wanatah.
Newcomer, a Bloomington resident, journeyed thousands of miles in September, when she visited India to play what she refers to as "let's-all-work-toward-global-understanding folksinger music."
Scheduled for release Tuesday, "Before & After" is the 12th album Newcomer has made for Rounder Records.
Continuing a tradition that began with 1998's "My True Name," 10 percent of on-tour CD sales will be donated to a cause Newcomer supports.
For "Before & After," she has selected the Washington-based Center for Courage & Renewal.
"It sounds altruistic, but it's really not at all," she says.
"I get to meet people who work in these organizations and I get to see the efforts of folks like this. I find them everywhere I go. It keeps my hope alive."
» You were working when you traveled to India, but did you get a lot out of it in return?
It was a life-changing experience. I was invited to the American Embassy School in Delhi, to be an artist-in-residence for about five days. I have a very good friend who's the director of the theater department there. They were having a week where they'd be talking about peace and justice topics. When it became clear I was coming to India to do this artist-in-residency, the cultural outreach division of the American embassy started a conversation with me about being one of the artists they send around the country.
It was very exciting. The work I've done with vocation and community service and peacemaking sorts of efforts was very interesting to them. But when the State Department called me, I had to ask, "You're not looking for Carrie Underwood, are you? Do you know what I do?" But it was wonderful. They said, "We're looking for music that will create bridges."
We have plenty enough walls. I think things that build bridges are a good idea.
» Not many Hoosier musicians have performed in India.
I also think it was interesting for Indian audiences. . . . Most of the American music they encountered was from MTV or blockbuster movies. It was fascinating to them that there was a part of the country that wasn't New York or Los Angeles.
» You've told a lot of stories from different perspectives during your career. But would you say "Before & After" is more personal than some recent releases?
I think there's a certain kind of nakedness about this album. Some of the themes that I come back to and revisit are on this album: The idea of finding something extraordinary in an ordinary day. One of the main things is the idea of the moment. We live such busy lives. Our culture is so busy. We're getting information from how many sources every day? It's really easy to not be present for our own lives. So there's a lot of attention on this album paid to the idea of peeling back all the distractions and what gets in the way of the heart of the matter, really.
» This is another collection of encouraging, optimistic songs from you. Has it become easier or more difficult to send those messages?
I used to think of myself as a glass-half-full person. Now I don't think it's half-full or half-empty. I just think it's a really big glass. At the same time, I do see that the quality of hope is so essential and kind of unstoppable. I experience that. I really do love people, and I believe in the best of what we can be.
That doesn't mean I don't see the worst of what we can be or acknowledge that there's a whole lot of work to be done. . . . You can choose to say what you're against, and there are things that need a whole lot of work. Or you can focus on what you're for.
When I went to India, I was taken by what was different, which was fascinating and beautiful. It's a very old culture. We're so young here in the United States.
I loved how we were different, but the thread that pulled across cultures and people really moved me. When I sang songs about love or grief or struggle or hope, these things were immediately recognizable.
» I'm curious about your reporter's mindset. Do you have a notebook you carry with you?
I do carry a little Moleskine notebook and a composition notebook. I used to be terrible with underlining in books I was reading. Now I like to jot down quotes and passages I really like. So it's a collection of things I'm reading, things I'm thinking about, sometimes bits of conversations.
My notebooks from India are full of images and scenes and conversations. If you have 11 songwriters and you ask them their process, there would be 11 different ways they do it. There's more of a literary bent to my process. . . . I'm always writing essays and poetry and sometimes character studies. A lot of my songs come out of those writings.
» Age: 51.
» Hometown: Bloomington.
» Education: Graduate of Elkhart Central High School; bachelor of arts degree from Purdue University.
» Family: Husband, Robert Meitus; daughter, Amelia Newcomer-Leas.
» Upcoming appearances: March 6, Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Bloomington; March 7, University Church, West Lafayette; April 23, St. Luke's United Methodist Church, Indianapolis.
» Web site: carrienewcomer.com.