Who loves ya, baby?
Where it Goes
Lori Carson
Restless Records

There is a reason break-up songs are the greatest staple of popular music. They are something to which everyone can relate, tapping into a very universal pain that's as inescapable as air; no matter how dead a relationship; some forever haunt us like old ghosts, and the lingering memory can be as destructive as any weapon or as debilitating as any disease. These are the kinds of relationships of which Lori Carson sings--the kind that cross that subtle line separating love from hate, the kind that begin beautifully but end horribly.

Carson, whose 1990 debut Shelter was an ignored gem of understated beauty, sings like a woman who has never felt good for a second of her life. Her voice is like a piercing whisper in the middle of the night, beautiful and dead all at once; it shrugs and seethes, her words melting into each other until they take the ethereal shape of warm breath coming into contact with frigid air. "I fell in/Fell in/Fell in/Fell into the loneliness," she sings like a woman still falling; "I'm falling into the cracks," she sings like a woman at the bottom of a pit.

But she is still a believer in a true love that lasts forever, imbuing her sad words with the moan of regret and the cry of hope. As the strings swell behind her and the piano and electric guitar and Hammond organ create a disturbingly calm atmosphere, Carson mulls over the past ("Friday morning/Can't decide to live or die") and the future ("When you feel better/You'll be glad you're alive") and decides to live in the present--in a place where you never feel better and you can never undo the past.

A tarnished ring
George Jones and Tammy Wynette
MCA Records

George Jones makes a comeback every year--from where, I have no idea. He's never gone away because he's too goddamned stubborn, the flawed genius who still records albums that are too near perfection to ignore; Jones may be forgotten by country radio, but he's a force to be reckoned with--his voice still deep like the wrinkles on his weathered face, still powerful like his own myth.

But the occasion of a full-blown reunion with the former Mrs. Jones is the final step in a long rehab process. Enough time has passed so the love songs ("One," "All I Have to Offer You is Me") don't reek of irony, the break-up songs ("Whatever Happened to Us," "(She's Just) An Old Love Turned Memory") aren't too personal and painful to listen to, and the "joke" songs ("It's an Old Love Thing") don't evoke a nervous laughter. They're a perfect duo straight through, her voice still powerful and pretty enough to put his in its place.

--Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky