Newcomer Lori Carson has made her reputation as a self-consciously literary songwriter, but her singing was much more impressive than her writing at the Birchmere last night. She is more of a cabaret chanteuse than a folk singer or rock vocalist, and the way she sustained her thick, breathy tone as it slowly slid through her melodies and the way her voice broke at just the right junctures were quite entrancing. Her melodies were quite attractive too; unfortunately, there were only two of them all night long -- a slow one for the ballads like "Pretty Girls" and a not-so-slow one for the songs like "Every Beat Is a Heartbreak," which had a hint of rhythm.

The lack of variety in the music was exacerbated by the lack of focus in the lyrics, which all described the tribulations of a sensitive soul assaulted by the rough ways of the world. The affectations of the lyrics were accentuated by Carson's closed eyes, bent-over crouch and snakelike sway as she sang; she came across as a Manhattan bohemian version of Stevie Nicks. She was backed by acoustic guitar, accordion and cello, which suited her confessional cabaret style perfectly.

One hoped that Jamie Notarthomas's opening set was meant as a parody of the smug satire, inept blues and pompous pronouncements that plague the acoustic singer-songwriter genre. One suspected, however, that it was not.