House of Pain and Resilience

Carnival Love
Amy Correia (Capitol)

By David Lilly

When I hear a CD start with a couple of songs evoking material from the Tom Waits library at the corner of Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs, I hang around for more. Amy Correia's voice resembles that of Ricki Lee Jones, which only enhances any Waits influences. On Correia's debut, Carnival Love, her material is not simply derivative, though. She captures that spirit, is quite clever in her own right and is a master of turning painful topics into good, catchy songs.

Echoey cello introduces the listener to "Angels Collide," the sad-but-pretty opening song. It could work as an a cappella tune, but it's satisfying with spare instrumentation. "Fallen Out of Love" rocks like a quieter version of Waits' "Hang On St. Christopher" and offers Correia's insight that "I was looking for a savior but you are just a man / I have to save myself and now I understand." She casts the line of her heart into the universe on "Starfishin'," with a good melody and gorgeous hook that squeezes catharsis out of painful lines like "Wishing that it weren't true / You've taken a shine / To someone new" and "Just when I thought my ship had come in / You went and spoiled everything / I'm gonna cry an ocean of tears / I'll sail away the rest of my years." Yet another, "Life is Beautiful," is a song looking for a film to move into and enhance, if it hasn't found one already. It's a prime example of Correia turning pain into inspirational art as she sings "I was lying in the gutter when a hand unseen / Poured down the sun on New York City," while the music moves from subdued to triumphant.

Most of the songs here are radio-friendly, but "Daydream Car" should be on some "greatest-driving-songs-ever" list. "He Drives It" may be a female response to the old Roger Taylor (of Queen) song "I'm in Love With My Car," as the female protagonist loses her love to his preoccupation with his automobile. The celebratory "Carnival" is a poetic observation of freaks ("Everybody said you look weird together / When the lights go up and the sun goes down / They're the perfect couple underneath these pink cotton candy clouds") in the carnival and the people riding rides. She reminds us that "they just got to be loved for exactly who they are" (and that "normal" appearances don't necessarily indicate happiness) as the music turns into triumphant sonic fireworks for the human condition.

This is Correia's debut, and it shows exceptional talent. Not bad for a barber's daughter. It's impossible to say how many lives she will touch with her work, but remember the impact on the world of that other barber's kid: Charles Schulz. Amy is young, and she has it.