Christine Lavin's first holiday album is notable in the lack of instrumentation. The Runaway Christmas Tree is an all-vocal affair, but it would be a mistake to call it "stripped-down." Lavin was inspired to record the tracks on The Runaway Christmas Tree in the spirit of New York's Sol "Roundman" Weber, who Lavin calls "THE master of vocal rounds." Given Lavin's extensive discography, it is surprising that it has taken her this long to release her acoustic, but twisted, take on the holidays. Fortunately, Lavin does not disappoint. The tracks take one of three forms: spoken word stories aimed at children, acapella songs or rounds, and humorous songs about the holidays. Four of the fourteen tracks are Lavin solo, whereas, for the remainder of the album, she is joined by various combinations of her fellow singers, the Mistletones.
The Mistletones include Julie Gold (composer of From a Distance), Ervin Drake (composer of Good Morning Hearthache, It was a Very Good Year, and I Believe), actor/director/singer David Lutken (appeared in The Civil War, The Will Rogers Follies, and Woody Guthrie's American Song), R&B/gospel singer Gregory Clark, artist/vocalist Andrea Vuocolo, and Margaret Dorn and Emily Bindinger (members of the eight-voice acappella group The Accidentals). Bindinger also produced The Runaway Christmas Tree.
The title of the album comes from one of the two spoken word pieces. The Runaway Christmas Tree had already been a popular staple of winter holiday concerts. The tale is a bedtime story Lavin wrote for her niece to explain why people decorate trees at Christmas. The other story is Polkadot Pancakes, a 17-minute story whose moral is for children to be adventurous and try foods other than their favorites.
Unlike many other knockoff holiday albums, Lavin presents seldom-heard holiday pieces. Traditional songs include one of the highlights of this disc Dona Nobis Pacem, which features a lush harmony by Lavin and her digitally sampled voice, multiplied to provide backup vocals to herself. Good Night to You All is another traditional song, this being an English round. More recent composers are also liberally covered. Particular standouts are Alleluha/Amen by William Peek and Lamb and Lion by Lorraine Lee Hammond.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Lavin album if there weren't funny songs. She includes a variety of humorous rounds: Emily Fox's Scalloped Potatoes ("You haven't been eating scalloped potatoes for three days, like we have.") and a parody of Johann Pachelbel's Canon renamed as Tacobel Canon.
The sound quality is very good, the harmonies being especially wonderful to listen to. This holiday collection is another fine one to add to your holiday shopping list for the folk-music fan in your life.
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