How does this debuting singer-songwriter with a waif-like voice differ from the many others who have recently appeared, from Edie Brickell to Jill Sobule? As she herself says, she stresses the pain in life. But she also stresses constructive action to do something about it.

So in this collection, Shelter, written while Carson struggled during the last six years as a folksinger in New York, she’ll sing about a homeless woman cradling two children on the subway (the album’s title cut). She’ll also sing about women involved with unworthy men. But these women either escape from their men, or (as in ”Pearl in His Pocket”) Carson firmly tells them they could.

What further distinguishes these songs is the detail in their lyrics. A woman going home (in ”The Last Time”) after what she swears will be her last one-night stand thinks other morning riders on the subway are ”showered and dressed,” while she looks as ”torn and brightly painted as a comic-book page.”

But that much detail can overload the album. Often Carson’s melodies sound labored, as if they had to push the words uphill; the arrangements seem smothered under layers of harps and strings. Carson is wonderfully sensitive, but maybe she should ask herself whether songs aren’t by nature simpler declarations than she has made them here.

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