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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1184

CD graphic Christine Lavin: Getting in Touch with My Inner Bitch
by George Graham

( Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/1/2000)

Singer-songwriters come in all manner of variations, from the introspective, confessional artists to the straight-out rocker to the political protester to the musical storyteller. And there are also the funny ones, or those who use some humor as part of their appeal. Some of the most astute folksingers have used humor to make their point, people such as Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs and even Woody Guthrie. And then there are songwriters who are best-known for their wit.

Christine Lavin is surely one of the wittiest and cleverest performers on the new folk scene. She has just released her twelfth album, a live recording, with a title that's a bit embarrassing for a Public Radio guy to read, Getting in Touch with My Inner Bitch.

Performing since the early 1970s, and releasing albums since the mid-1980s, Christine Lavin has created scores of memorable songs, from the hilariously funny to the downright poignant, taking on all manner of subjects from rocky relationships, to lovers falling out of windows, to the planet Pluto. She has also been involved with numerous projects to showcase up-and-coming artists, and also recently started her own record label, after apparently finding even the independent folk-oriented labels restricting. Over the years, Ms. Lavin has developed a reputation as an especially charming live performer, and indeed the produced versions of her songs on her studio albums sometimes seem to fall a bit short of the way she can deliver them in concert. So given Ms. Lavin's strength as a live performer, this new CD is her third live recording, not counting the side projects she has done with others.

The new release has her in fine form, in a recording that is a composite of five different performances last year, including a couple of Public Radio concerts. Venues include Chicago; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Madison, Wisconsin; Saratoga Springs, New York; and Philadelphia. She interacts with the audience, often teasing them in her charmingly self-effacing manner and they in turn help her to get some great performances. And on this album, she makes a nod to technology by using a digital audio delay device to loop and sample her voice allowing her to do harmonies with herself live. The CD is a collection of dozen songs, plus some introductory monologues. Eight of the songs are new, with the rest being somewhat updated from their previous studio versions. All of the performances are solo, though she occasionally has a little help from the audience, and she presents both her funny and her more thoughtful songs. It's a nice collection that captures Ms. Lavin's spontaneous appeal, where she can raise her witty songs to an ever higher level though her interaction with the audience.

The album begins with one of the more "serious" songs. Single Voice among other things considers subject of the cycles of time, and also serves as a nice introductory piece through its lyrics. <<>>

One of the more humorous songs follows, with Ms. Lavin getting into the audience, selecting a suitable victim and singing a great new piece called You Look Pretty Good for Your Age. <<>>

Among the songs Ms Lavin reprised on this collection is one from several years back, the delightfully funny, What Was I Thinking. She she wrote a new verse appropriate for the state of affairs in 1999. <<>>

Another of the more thoughtful of Ms. Lavin's compositions, new on this CD, is Plateau. The simple solo setting works well for this consideration of how the magic can disappear from one's life. <<>>

On the other hand, a fun story song, which she previuosly recorded as part of a various artists sampler she produced, is Harrison Ford, about a chance meeting with the movie actor. It was funny before, but this performance brings out the best in the song. <<>>

In one of her introductions on the CD, Ms. Lavin explains that it's dangerous to confide in a songwriter, as you're likely to end up as the subject of a song. Another New York Afternoon, is about a store owner who told Ms. Lavin he was still looking to meet the right woman. <<>>

As mentioned, Ms. Lavin uses a digital delay device to create ersatz multiple voices. That is nowhere more apparent than on Happy Birthday a greeting not using the familiar song, but done as an interesting round, with the parts created via technology. <<>>

Probably the most "serious" of Ms. Lavin's songs on this CD is called The Piper, which was inspired by various recent news events. <<>>

The title track, Getting in Touch with My Inner Bitch, explores life's little annoyances, especially those caused by other people and Ms. Lavin's reaction to them. <<>>

The album ends with another of Ms. Lavin's funny story songs. It was inspired by her aunt, the actress Pat Crawford Brown, who once appeared in a film called Piranha Women of the Avocado Jungle of Death. Like her classic epic songs such as Doris and Edwin: the Movie, and The Shopping Cart of Love, this piece, named after the movie, tells what Ms. Lavin imagined would be the plot for this B-grade movie. <<>>

Christine Lavin is one of the most appealing performers on the new folk scene. Known for her great wit, fun-filled, almost giddy performing style and outstanding songwriting, as well as her work on behalf of other performers, Ms. Lavin has become one of the most respected artists among her peers. While most of her songs are enjoyable in almost any context, Ms. Lavin is at her best in front of an audience, getting them involved, and in the process, raising her own already high level of enthusiasm. The simple solo live setting also gives the album a degree of intimacy that a would not be there had she recorded with a whole group.

In terms of audio quality, the CD generally sounds good but is a bit uneven. The recordings from the different venues vary, with some tracks sounding quite good, while the songs recorded at Saratoga Springs are in mono. This is the first composite live album she has done. Her other two were taken from single concerts. The mastering job of assembling these various recordings was rather good in getting what degree of consistency there is, and the dynamic range is respectable.

At both funny and more thoughtful songs, Christine Lavin is one the brightest writers and performers on today's folk scene. Her new CD Getting In Touch with My Inner Bitch is a thoroughly enjoyable collection that, despite the title, puts her in the best context, live before an audience. With mostly new songs, this is also rather unlike a typical live album, which usually just features older material. Sold only via the Internet, including through her own website, it joins her two other live releases and numerous studio albums as another recording her growing number of fans will not want to miss.

(c) Copyright 2000 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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<<>> indicates audio excerpt played in produced radio review

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