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The Finest Thing

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Album Review

The Finest Thing is Lori Carson's first new recording in three years. This marks the first time Carson has written an album as a series of connected songs, or, as she calls them, "meditations." One can sense the interior yet open focuses of the music on the sleeve by conceptual artist Russell Mills. Blues and earth tones hover in a faded landscape underscored by lovers kissing in repose on the front cover, with a solitary figure reclining in the sheets on the back. These sonic, song-form meditations are imagistic, full of limpid, languid recollections from life that are etched deeply into emotional memory, but are reportable in only the most poetic of observational terms because of the limitations of words. Carson uses prominent acoustic and spare electric guitars, shimmering keyboards, a muted trumpet, and layers of voices (her own and those of Ayako Hirakata). Some of these voices impart words, some wordlessly impart the pervasive sense of contemplative traveling through love, memory, people, places, things, events, landmarks — both spiritual and physical — and time itself as an elemental and subjective construct in space that breathes, opens, dissolves, and re-emerges as transformation. On the title track, Carson sketches the feeling of being washed clean by the lover's presence: "When I saw my love, not long ago/It was like breathing air/After being without it, it was like breathing/After being so long without it." Scott Tweedie's reedy, rounded trumpet enters amid the piano and guitars, winding its way through the next few lines: "Quick as you wish you could make it last/It goes that fast/You can't stop it, you can't even slow it down. Being in his arms is the finest thing/Being in his arms, in his company/was the finest thing." As the next verse flutters down into the softness, the notion of passage becomes more pronounced: "You hold on to summer, how quickly it goes/The sweet and salty air, everything about it/The sweet and salty air, you love everything about it/Quick as you wish you could make it last, it goes that fast...." As the instruments begin to commingle and entwine in the center of the mix, Carson's small truth becomes a looming one: that love, like summer, passes and what's left is the memory — physical, emotional, spiritual — of the "finest thing." This could be a devastating truth if it weren't so tender and willing, offered without bitterness or regret. The next two pieces, "She Can't Decide," and the beginning of "Long Walk" become jump-off points for the rest of the set. These pieces offer deeper, moodier reflections but are carried by voices offering impressions rather than words, they croon "la la la" with grace in the center of a lush yet spare mix that brings the listener down into the silence where the heart speaks in untranslatable syllables. "Hold Onto the Sun," is rootsier, simpler, held fast by guitars and keyboards, in staccato phrasing, a notion of being in flux without giving in to the temptation to escape. This is a testament of brokenness that desires to hang on to what is fleeting: wholeness, safety, and certainty. Rather than delving into the harrowing feelings themselves, it's an admonition and affirmation of acceptance and the willingness to embrace what comes next even if its face cannot yet be glimpsed. As two longish pieces of hovering voices slip through the skeletal instrumentation on "Glimmer" and "Grey World," the listener embraces the solitude of formlessness and waiting before tentatively emerging on the beautifully vulnerable "Coney Island Ride," accompanied by a 12-string and ghostly sounds that could be the traces of a past lived through, a present not quite revealed, or a foreseeable future whispering intentions difficult to discern. What emerges on the return of "Long Walk" is an unspecific, nearly formless presence that moves up ghost-like from the well of silence and into the heart of the listener. This is subtle yet gorgeous work by an artist who has continually charted the depths and emerges as an instructive, affirmative font of gentleness, compassion, and even wisdom, in allowing the past's pains and pleasures to open onto the wondrous quiet of the present.


Born: United States

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '90s

Although Lori Carson's name may not automatically come to mind when discussing the best singer-songwriters of the late '90s, it doesn't mean that she isn't deserving of such accolades. Although she has received much critical acclaim and acquired many fans along the way, her talents have unfortunately gone unrecognized (hopefully this will soon change in the Lilith Fair-friendly late '90s). Beginning with her debut in 1990, Shelter, Carson was predicted to be a major recording force by the likes of...
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The Finest Thing, Lori Carson
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