Lori Carson: Everything She Touches Turns Magical

Mar 7th, 2016 | By | Category: Album No. 1002, Reviews

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One of the problems with growing up — or at least chronologically aging — is that it becomes harder to find songwriters whose concerns are your concerns. There are only so many commonalities that a mature person shares with someone one-half or one-third of his or her age.

Perhaps that is part of the reason that while I grew up with many amazing singer-songwriters, I mostly left them behind for instrumentally focused music as the decades piled on. While Neil Young, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell seemed to share timeless insights and stories, their successors either struck me as bringing nothing new to the table or were solely focused on adolescent problems.

That’s why Lori Carson was such a breath of fresh air when I first heard her fronting The Golden Palominos in the mid-1990s. Her lyrics were a mixture of regrets, optimism, unapologetic fuck-you-ism, despair and the whole rest of the mess of being someone who has lived for more than 15 years. And her voice was a sultry, seductive charmer that literally had grown men crawling on the floor and expressing their love for her when she played live.

Chances are you haven’t heard of Carson, despite the fact that you’ve probably heard her music used in television shows and movies (see, for instance, “You Won’t Fall” from Stealing Beauty, or her songs used on Buffy or Dawson’s Creek). Both her solo work and work with The Golden Palominos mostly flew under the radar. Not only does she not show up on the male-dominated lists of best singer-songwriters of all time, she doesn’t even make it onto a 1990s women-only list that somehow found a place for Lisa Loeb.

But if you are not yet acquainted with Carson, it’s not too late. In fact, in listening to her work from two decades ago what is most striking in how fresh it sounds. While it’s hard to go wrong with any of her recordings, Everything I Touch Runs Wild is a good starting point. Seven years earlier, she released her first solo album, Shelter, on Geffen. Then she joined The Golden Palominos for two albums (which we will return to in the near future) and, with the assistance of Anton Fier of the Palominos, signed to Restless for her second and third solo releases, Where It Goes and Everything I Touch Runs Wild. Her work with the Palominos helped flesh out her solo recordings, and while Where It Goes is very good, Everything I Touch Runs Wild takes things to another level.

The album ranges from wispy tracks like “Fade,” with its minimal blend of voice, piano and strings, and “Snow Come Down,” even sparser with just voice, acoustic guitar and minimal synthesizer. The minimal instrumentation shines a spotlight on Carson’s voice and seemingly heartfelt lyrics. Ditto on the lilting “Black Thumb,” which is sort of the title track of the album:

I’m sure you were sure
You could help so much.
But it’s a curse, like a black thumb.
Everything I touch
Runs wild with the pressure of it
Becomes a pile of dust
Then the wind gets it.
Everything I touch runs wild …
I never meant
To cause you anything
But happiness.
Some things just won’t change
Though I keep on trying.

But Carson can rock a little, too, as she does on her cover of Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw the Light” (and to some extent on the remixes that accompanied some copies of this album, which had more of a trip-hop feel to them). But it’s the way Carson’s voice draws the listener in on her quieter numbers that makes the greatest impression. Once when I saw her perform live (not the time with the drunk guy crawling on the floor), the venue was as quiet as a church, with the audience silently mesmerized.

In recent years, Carson has mostly disappeared from the music scene. She still does soundtrack work, but she is focusing on her writing (and writing studies), including her 2013 paths-not-taken novel, The Original 1982, and a current Kindle serial, Cold Weather. I haven’t started on the latter yet, but enjoyed the former almost as much as her albums — particularly the passage in which her fictional lead character recalls the details of that magical concert I had the pleasure of attending in the late 1990s:

The D.C. gig is actually in Arlington, Virginia, at a club called Iota. The owners are feeding us and treating us like family. … The club is packed when I go on a little while later. It’s only six-thirty. I can’t believe how many people have come out to see us play in daylight. My voice feels strong, my hands and fingers do what they’re supposed to do. The sound is good and the crowd is into it. Everything just comes together. I think it’s the best show of the tour.

I know Carson was sincere in her feelings; after the show, I was moved to drop her an email telling her how much I enjoyed the show. Much to my surprise, she responded and said something to the effect of, “Wasn’t that an amazing evening?” It was, and much as her live performance captivated the crowd, Everything I Touch Runs Wild continues to captivate me.

Details:

  • Artist name: Lori Carson
  • Title: Everything I Touch Runs Wild
  • Year of release: 1997
  • Year of first hearing by writer: 1997
  • Format listened to: CD
  • Track listing
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2 Comments to “Lori Carson: Everything She Touches Turns Magical”

  1. Scot says:

    Well done, Thom! You tell us about both you and her in this piece. Makes a nice connection.

    • Thom Lieb says:

      Thanks, Scot. I know you are familiar with at least some of her work and I’m happy to introduce you to the rest.

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