Christine Lavin is the motherly folk singer who introduced numerous people to folk music through her radio shows, compilation CDs, and web site. In 2002, she had two new releases: her DVD "girlUNinterrupted" and her CD "I Was in Love with a Difficult Man." Although each release stands alone, they both complement each other. The DVD serves as a wonderful advertisement for her new CD, since, on the DVD, Lavin performs six of the songs from the CD solo without a lot of extra instrumentation. These songs are Strangers Talk to Me, Jack & Wanda, Making Friends With My Grey Hair, Firehouse, Wind Chimes, and Sunday Breakfast with Christine.
The DVD, featuring Lavin, her guitar, and her electronic toys, was recorded February 16, 2002 at Rehearsal Studios, Butler University, Indianapolis. The show opens with Lavin appearing on stage without introduction to the drumbeat of Strangers Talk to Me. With her wireless headset microphone on and without her guitar in front of her during this song, she looks a little exposed and uncomfortable. As the show progresses, however, she becomes more comfortable, sliding into her crazy on-stage persona. Lavin is one of the most theatrical folk performers, who also could survive as part stand-up comic due to her sharp improv skills.
I won't give away all the different delights that Lavin has in her performance, but her show goes beyond traditional concerts: audience interaction, contests, giveaways, electronic wizardry, and baton twirling. The show features three songs not on any of her albums: Da Doo En Ron Ron, The King of Indianapolis is Wayne and Harrison Ford (which actually appears on her compilation of various artists entitled The Stealth Project). Unfortunately, the DVD has only a couple of Lavin classics from the late 1980's: Good Thing He Can't Read My Mind and Sensitive New Age Guys, which is updated with new lyrics. I wish there were more older songs on the DVD. Despite the hilarity, Lavin gets one or two serious moments per each of two hour-long sets. In the first set, that song is Jack & Wanda, about a couple Lavin met at the airport who celebrates their wedding anniversary every month. It is classic Lavin, in the same gushy, yet charming spirit as The Moment Slipped Away. Firehouse, Lavin's contribution to Suzanne Vega's compilation CD Vigil about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in NYC, is in the second set. The song chronicles Lavin's perception about the firehouse near her apartment and its firefighters and how they dealt with the loss of their own.
The video is shot simply, so there are not a lot of technical video tricks or rapidly changing camera angles (a la MTV) to distract, which is good. On the downside, I felt that there were too many long shots from the back of the audience, and not enough close-ups. The few audience shots that were included were either too dark or miscolored. The sound and video quality, however, are quite good. Bonus material at the end of the concert includes childhood footage of Lavin twirling baton and a recipe for pain au chocolat.
Lavin's CD I Was in Love With a Difficult Man bears many similarities to her 1997 release Shining My Flashlight on the Moon — thematically and musically. As on her DVD, Lavin can go from hilarious observations of daily life (e.g., Strangers Talk To Me) to serious songs about loss (e.g., Firehouse, For Carolyn/Something Beautiful). On many songs, Lavin so comfortably relates to the audience that she seems to be talking directly to the listener through her storytelling. Jack & Wanda and Firehouse are good examples. There are other standout songs on the album, too. The CD opens with the catchy accordion-driven title song. Making Friends With My Grey Hair is reminiscent of Lavin's 1988 Mysterious Woman. Trade Up is a partly serious/partly humorous song about moving through the different social circles at a business-related party. The song pokes fun at the shallowness of trading up to higher-class mingling, but, at the same time, realizing that we all do it, and perhaps, for good reason.
For those who have not seen Christine in concert, I would highly recommend the DVD. It shows a complete 2-hour-long concert, without editing or overdubs. I recommend watching the DVD, then listening to the CD. It's like going to a concert, then picking up the CD at the show, and bringing much more depth to the songs than listening to the CD alone.
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