Following her folky debut, Shelter, the breathy, wistful singer/songwriter Lori Carson made a splash in the indie world as the lead singer for the Golden Palominos on This Is How It Feels and Pure. While her own album contained some strong material, its derivativeness — Rickie Lee Jones, Edie Brickell and Tracy Chapmanesque stabs at social consciousness about homelessness and poverty — made it too uneven for repeated listenings. Setting Carson’s sultry vocals against lush bedroom arrangements, it was her work with the Palominos that presaged better days. “Little Suicides” (from Pure) is one of that album’s highlights, and fits in seamlessly alongside Carson’s later solo material.
Where It Goes, produced by Anton Fier and released after the end of Carson’s stint with his Palominos, is grave and serious, sung with aching intensity and arranged with drawing-room sophistication. It demonstrates a far surer grasp of Carson’s strengths as a songwriter and arranger. “Waking to the Dream of You” and “Snow Come Down” are tantalizingly intimate and adult reflections on love, loneliness and the pleasures of solitary comforts.
Everything I Touch Runs Wild, issued as a single disc and as a two-CD set containing remixes, is another major leap forward. Lush, seductive and shimmering, with faint imprints of Bristol trip-hop, 4AD ambience, psychedelia and folk, it contains such highlights as a glimmering cover of Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw the Light” and the subtly insistent “Something’s Got Me,” in which Carson croons, “I don’t want to cause you any pain / I just want to love you.” A hard appeal to resist. The remixes move Carson naturally in the direction of trip-hop and downtempo club rhythms, although it’s certainly not dancefloor material.
Relocating from New York to Seattle, Carson released Stars, another strong record that builds on Everything I Touch’s strengths. Calmer and less eclectic, this set is more openly optimistic and warmhearted, shining with an understated joy. Carson sings longingly of a returning lover in “16 Days”: “Thank God for second chances / true love and forgiveness.” Still, the album offers more than lovesick musings: she also wishes for his “Head in a Box.”
Returning to the East Coast, Carson (whose songs have always revealed an inclination for isolation) retreated to a farm on Long Island where she led workshops on songwriting technique and releasing an understated album of home demos, A House in the Weeds, via the Internet in 2001.
Carson’s songs have been used on soundtracks by such filmmakers as Bernardo Bertolucci and Steven Spielberg and such TV shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Roswell. In a move that scarcely seemed logical at the time (but was clearly brilliant in retrospect), Rykodisc packaged her soundtrack contributions as an alternate-universe greatest-hits. Stolen Beauty, which borrows its name from a Bertolucci film, collects material from Where It Goes, Everything I Touch, Stars and other phases of Carson’s career. Featuring the Palominos’ “Little Suicides” alongside solo favorites (e.g., “Something’s Got Me,” “Snow Come Down”) and such rare tracks as “Hands” from a Bill Laswell project, this set compellingly argues for Carson’s relevance as a songwriter and singer comfortable in a range of styles, but unfailingly intimate and intense.
The Finest Thing moves Carson into a more ambient realm, with clear influences from former colleagues Fier and Laswell, but most notably under the sway of Brian Eno. For a singer and arranger who’s always leaned toward shimmering impressions rather than pop, this is her most dreamlike record yet, moving from singer-songwriter to lush ambient synthesizers and wordless refrains. Moving and lovely throughout.