I'm not always certain what the difference is between the Sarah McLachlan / Jewel and the Heidi Berry / Keren Ann artists of the world. Why do critics disparage the former and heap praise upon the latter? Is there really that much difference between the two styles? Is one bereft of integrity while the other overflows with artistic credibility? Or is it simply a matter of popularity? Would music snobs celebrate the entire catalog of Jewel if she'd never sold more than 50,000 copies? Would they berate Keren Ann if she earned a Grammy?
Lori Carson is the kind of artist who makes me ask these questions. On the surface, she falls squarely in the camp of the critically acclaimed and commercially under appreciated singer/songwriter. But her music is so simple and so open that there's no reason it couldn't appeal to millions of lovelorn women who are resigned to curling up in bed with a cat and a Jane Austen novel. A couple of plays on Grey's Anatomy or The OC, and something tells me that Carson would've earned as much love and mockery as Sarah McLachlan and Jewel do.
The album is easy to dismiss at first, but each listen proves more rewarding than the last. At various moments, Carson's songs make me think of Heidi Berry, Keren Ann, Tanya Donelly, Nick Drake, Kristin Hersh, and even Shawn Smith. The music is simple, and at times it is so simple as to teeter on the edge of cliché. The lyrics have none of the complex poetry of Donelly or Drake, but their simplicity cannot disguise a very warm and real humanity. The only stinker is her cover of "I Saw the Light," a song that plays to the worst elements of Carson's sound. Otherwise, this is a perfect album for dark highways and lonely bedrooms.
The design has some subtle touches, but overall there's nothing particularly special about it. It's a shame the cover looks like an outtake from a Bjork photo shoot, because it completely misrepresents the music inside. The photos are very good, but they say nothing about the mood of the album. The lyrics are included, but the musician credits are either in a miserably tiny font or I need glasses.
Listen if you like: Heidi Berry fans should definitely check this out. Her voice is occasionally similar to Tanya Donelly, but her music sounds more like Kristin Hersh. If you like Counting Crows songs like "Raining in Baltimore," you'll probably find something here that you like. And yes, Sarah McLachlan and Jewel fans might like Carson's music.
If it were food, it'd be: a cup of cocoa on a cold and lonely day.
(I think it's worth noting that, while I've bought copies of several of the CDs that I've reviewed here, this is the first time I ordered multiple albums by an artist while I was writing a review.)