God's in the details
by Kate Conner-Ruben
The problem with growing up well, one of them is that no one tells you stories anymore. That's why singer-songwriter Christine Lavin regularly packs them into concert halls from Andover to Anchorage. Adults get a tad flushed, their jaws going slack in a dopey smile, as they sit and listen to Lavin's winsome, funny, guileless storysongs. They laugh, they cry, they murmur among themselves, and they go home grinning, open, and vulnerable. Sometimes that's just what you need.
For over fifteen years Lavin's been a full-time folk musician, but her press pack dubs her a "full-service entertainer," acknowledging her penchant for material that veers into stand-up comedy and a more than occasional predilection to stop the show for some pyrotechnic baton-twirling. But her songs tie everything together. Each is packed with enough visual and emotional detail to float the average miniseries. Lavin's latest live CD, The Subway Series, recorded on the campus of Fordham University, features selections that span her career and reflect her wide-eyed amazement about the sweet, unremarkable moments of life. She sings about the guy behind the deli counter in her Upper West Side New York City neighborhood, about seeing a puppy on the subway tracks, about the things we do to please the ones we love. When she delves deeper, she does so, once again, by illuminating the minutiae that surround the issue, rather than the issue itself. Everything Lavin performs is sung in a delightful, tripping, casually accurate voice, and supported with deft and classy guitar work. She's an utter and total pro.
There's this thing about the divide between folk music and pop music that's bothered me for a long time, and it has to do with the word "clever." When an artist is clever or wordy or dare we mention it funny, well, that about trounces any potential for crossover into broader markets. I just don't get it. Not that Lavin particularly cares about being
heard by the churning masses: she has quite a nice gig going and doesn't seem to be complaining. But every now and then I just get the feeling the churning masses could really do for some slack-jawed, vulnerable time particularly when I hear songs like "The Sixth Floor / Moon-Rising Tide," which takes something as tiny as a souvenir pen from a Texas tourist attraction and coats it with layer upon layer of meaning until the final effect is positively religious, global, and drenched with truth.
Christine Lavin returns to the Ark on Saturday, April 20.
[Originally published in April, 2002.]