Folk music gets a bum rap sometimes, not from the music industry, obviously, but from the general public. Occasional remarks can tend toward referring to folk music artists as “tree huggers” or people who are “crunchy granola” … heck, there’s even a comedy movie written around the entire folk music industry, and even though it’s a wildly popular movie and the humor is created with love and respect, it’s still jokes about folk music. The truth is, though, that folk music has always played a big part in the art form of musical storytelling because folk songs do lead with the primary focus on the telling of a story. Most of the time, the stories being told in folk songs are ones that come right from the heart, and a person would have to look pretty far and pretty wide to find a singer-songwriter of folk music whose heart is as big as that of Christine Lavin.
Although simply billed as Christine Lavin AT THE BIRDLAND THEATER, the script sitting to Lavin’s right during her program on Monday night was titled MY MOST REQUESTED SONGS: THE BEST OF THE PANDEMIC and that is precisely the theme into which Ms. Lavin leaned during her eighty minute show. Each of the eight compositions that Lavin presented were simply marvelous representations of what good songwriting (folk or otherwise) can be, when left in the right hands. Lavin declares that, “I don’t make stuff up, I make it rhyme” by way of explaining her process, when it comes to the art of writing ten-minute-long musical plays of one, two, or three acts, so, although her resume lists her as “singer, songwriter, guitarist, recording artist, author, and videographer,” there is no mention of her gift for being in the right place at the right time. It can’t be just sheer dumb luck that allowed her to stumble upon the events that led to the creation of “Waiting For The B Train” or “Good Thing He Can’t Read My Mind”, the former happening early enough in the evening to get the audience’s eyes filled with tears and sides sore from laughter, and the latter showcasing both the female and male perspectives, quite to hilarious perfection. Hilarity seems to be a special interest for Lavin, whether she is singing or chatting, but it isn’t the only dish she serves up at one of her intimate shows.
While Christine had the loudest response from her devoted audience to two prodigious numbers titled “Life Happens Fast On West 20th Street” and “Shopping Cart of Love” (word is this is her most popular comedy song), there was an audience response to “The Kind of Love You Never Recover From” best described as deafening mournfulness. Perhaps it is Lavin’s ability with poetry that reaches down so deeply, and maybe it is her way with crafting a melodic line, but for this aficionado of musical storytelling, the experience lay entirely in the emotion-laced phrasing woven into Christine’s dulcet, airy vocals, vocals that remained as such, when she ceased singing and segued into conversation, both activities equally hypnotic and welcoming. With her introductions to and factoids about each of her most-requested compositions, Lavin inspired verbal reactions from the crowd, from laughter to sighs, the mark of a storyteller through and through.
Although this writer’s personal highlight of the evening was the performance of the afore-mentioned “The Kind of Love…”, there were delectable unexpected surprises in the form of guest artist Deirdre Flint (who could continue singing her satirical folk songs or step sideways into stand-up comedy), offstage dialogue from Brian Wilson (whose extraordinary voice is unmistakable, even if used in spoken words, rather than sung), and a genuinely wonderful moment when Christine handed her (heretofore ignored) script to a friend in the front row, to act as prompt on an especially voluble refrain. The humanity and hilarity of Lavin and co. is what should await an audience at a live music show, but that the audience, frequently, comes up missing. Not here. You cannot be in a room with Christine Lavin and not want to run up and give her a hug, give her your heart, or give her your attention. In her silver braided pigtails she’s like your favorite social studies teacher, your favorite Auntie, or your favorite eccentric neighbor down the street with the best bird feeder, puppies, and Halloween candy in the whole neighborhood… only with a guitar, a voice like a song thrush, and a thousand and one fabulous stories to tell.
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