Her Unplugged Approach Plugs In Well at Lilith Fair

INTERVIEW Lori Carson

To say that I am a woman and a musician, I don't think that makes me any less powerful," says singer-songwriter Lori Carson, who toured with the Lilith Fair for eight of its July concerts.

Her soothing, gentle voice drew about 400 people to a recent performance at the tiny Village stage at Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts in Mansfield, Mass. Ms. Carson's band - made up simply of a cellist and a guitarist - fit in well with the low-key, informal atmosphere there.

"I think the [Lilith Fair] is a great idea," Carson says. "I love the idea of touring with other women artists ... kind of supporting each other."

Perhaps best known for her work with the New York-based rock group the Golden Palominos in the early '90s (a band that has since disbanded), Carson sings music that is soft, intense, and delicate. Although she has recorded several records and appears on the soundtracks for "Stealing Beauty" and "The Saint," she keeps a relatively low profile.

"I just don't think that I am very commercial in my sensibility or in any way," Carson says, while sitting on the plush green grass outside in the backstage area. "I don't want to exploit myself."

Carson admits she has never felt comfortable with the business of musicmaking, including touring. Her Lilith Fair performances lasted only 20 minutes.

"I'm not very well set up in terms of the business side of things," Carson says. "And everything is negotiating your slot. And I didn't negotiate my slot. I just said, 'Sure I'd like to do the tour.' "

She recorded her latest solo album (her third), "Everything I Touch Runs Wild," in the bedroom of her Manhattan apartment with an accordion, a guitar, and a few other acoustic instruments to achieve a more "intimate and imperfect" sound.

The singer from Long Island reveals her vulnerable side, writing personal lyrics about loneliness and falling in and out of love. Over acoustic rhythms, she sings about a boy from Nashville in "Make a Little Luck," and about losing control in a relationship in the quiet yet gripping "Something's Got Me."

"The songs are not literally biographical, but they are still very personal," she says. "I start with a place that feels really powerful, but I don't stick to the facts. I make it more interesting with simple language."

On the cover of "Everything," Carson is dressed in a strapless burgundy evening gown - an image more evocative of a loud dance album than a pensive acoustic one.

"I decided to do it in a moment of rebelliousness," she explains. "I just didn't want people to look at the cover and say, 'Oh yeah, here's another quiet, introspective folk singer.' "

Growing up in a family that discouraged musical pursuits, nudging her toward more traditional professions (her brother is a lawyer and her sister is in advertising), Carson says she fell in love, ironically, with songwriters her father listened to: Carol King and Joni Mitchell.

"I felt like it was freakish to be creative," she says.

Clearly past this stage, Carson says she would like to keep doing work that is vital, either on her own or collaborating with other artists.

Back on the Village stage, Carson ends her show with a song from her previous solo album, "Where It Goes." Many faces in the audience are contemplative. Some people begin to cry - a reaction that Carson finds rewarding.

"I see that happen, and it makes me feel so good," she says. "It gives me great pleasure when there's a circle of connection."

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