Shelter (1990)

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Debut Record. Released on Geffen’s GDC imprint. Produced by Hal Willner, Engineered by Joe Ferla, A&R: Gary Gersh

Lori Carson’s songs convey the pain of abandonment and lonely personal struggle in unsparing detail. Her writing is clear and direct, swept to heart by her ability to enter her sad, often luckless characters. That she sings like she’s haunted, even a ghost herself, makes her debut album, Shelter, all the more poignant.

With her whispery chirp of a voice and her acoustic guitar, Carson has been making the rounds of New York’s folk clubs for a couple of years. But she’s also had her eyes on the streets. The title track’s tale of desertion and spoiled innocence floats in on wispy strains of concertina, synthesizer and Morricone guitar, slowly building until its homeless narrator is left riding the subway in the wee hours, consoling her two listless children. “Which Way Be Broadway” is equally devastating: A girl runs away from her Minnesota home to become a dancer and ends up turning tricks from a wintry New York sidewalk, pining for the warmth of the past, yet so gripped by the city’s allure that she can’t turn back.

Not that Carson’s record is utterly joyless. “Stand on Your Own,” with its pedal-steel country setting, is an affirmation of personal resolve; “Imagine Love” is a warmly sentimental ballad to which Gregg Allman lends his growling-bear voice; “Pretty Girls” culminates with its protagonist’s decision to finally leave her philandering lover. There’s also warmth in producer Hal Willner’s arrangements. Willner protects Carson’s fragile voice by drawing on sympathetic players like guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Michael Blair (accomplices of Tom Waits’s and Elvis Costello’s) and lightly coloring her songs with cello, French horn, harp and flute.

Carson does spend much of her time singing of unhappy endings. But if she can continue to create songs as emotionally resonant as those on Shelter, this album may represent a promising new beginning. (RS 574)

TED DROZDOWSKI, Rolling Stone

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