BWW Review: Christine Lavin, Don White and Friends Humorously Blur the Lines Between Folk and Cabaret at Don't Tell Mama
Christine Lavin, prolific (and dang funny) songwriter and performer of the east coast cabaret and folk scenes, creates a hootenanny during her residency at Don't Tell Mama most Wednesday nights in September. Co-hosting the series is Don White, folk singer-songwriter and activist out of Lynhurst, MA. The special guest on the evening of September 9 was LA-based lyricist, singer, producer Hillary Rollins. Each weekly show features a guest with whom Lavin and White will sing and laugh and swap stories. It's a good time. Lavin has created a vibrant and far-reaching musical community over her many decades of writing songs, recording CDs and performing music. She has, in fact, recorded 22 CDs full of original tunes and appears on 10 compilations. Most recently, Rollins and Lavin co-produced a compilation that you can buy at the show.
Sometimes casual nights are the best, right? Staying in, putting on your sweats, hanging with the besties, just laughing and feeling completely at ease in your skin. This was kinda the vibe last Wednesday night at Don't Tell Mama at Lavin and White's folksy cabaret show. To be fair, Lavin wasn't wearing sweats. She donned a black GOT MUSIC t-shirt and black jeans, her pixie cut silver hair spiking up just a touch.
Lavin informed us that she'd cajoled Sidney Myer, DTM's doyen, into doing an opening number. He took the stage, looking gorgeous. With Tracy Stark at the keys, Myer proffered a rousing rendition of Allan Sherman's song "Good Advice." It was naughty and harkened back to speakeasy days of yore.
Lavin followed with a set of hits. Her voice sounds like a young maiden's: sweet, high and crystalline. She did "Air Conditioner," which, if you haven't heard it, you must because it perfectly captures the desperation of summer in New York City. (You can catch Sutton Foster's recording where?) She followed with "Santa Lost a Ho" (no description necessary), and her song with the name so long I would use up the rest of my allotted words just to recount it. AKA "Musical Apology," it is an ironic lover's recant. Lavin is completely at ease on stage, as if it were her living room. Her presence is generous and wise and irreverent, her lyrics clever, vivid and biting. She also raps, while twirling two batons at a time. So there's that.
In from Santa Monica, Rollins (photo right) came up next and did a set of her originals. She describes herself as a "folkie in a boa," and she strives to blend the boundaries between musical genres. She collaborates with various composers to set her lyrics to music. The first thing you notice about Rollins is her hair--it's literally down to her behind, wavy and lustrous. Her first song was one of those tunes that calls out cabaret singers for being self-indulgent, while finally having to admit that the catharsis of doing a solo autobiographical show is pretty satisfying. She told us she'd "earned her bitter" after the second song about a romantic disappointment. The third song was called "Hair Down There." I'm sorry to say, this was not the first cabaret song I've heard about finding the first grey pubic hair, but I surely do hope it is the last. I really never, ever need to hear another song about grey pubes. I'm done with that level of honesty. Rollins' lower register was rich and warm, while her higher voice sounded strained. Her singing with pianist and collaborator Ned Ginsberg was connected and lovely, although in one of their songs she struggled with pitches at the end of lines. She came across as a little vocally rusty, yet she is certainly a talented and experienced artist.
Third up was Don White, who burst on to the stage, his thick, grey curls tied back in a well-cared-for hippie's ponytail. He launched into a comedic riff about parenting a 15-year-old girl, of whom he did a spot-on and devastatingly disdainful impression. He sang a song about raising kids--his last--in a strong appealing voice, and delivered a tender acapella tune about his identity as a father, which was impressive (if a bit long--but that's folk music! Verses galore). White possesses an engaging, easy physicality on stage. I could imagine him being a funny and understanding dad.
What followed was a round robin of the three singer/songwriters singing harmonies on one another's tunes and being charmingly spontaneous. Lavin called up future guest, the "Guitar of Central Park," David Ippolito, who bashfully joined in. To end the show, a bunch of people joined the crew on stage for a rollicking rendition of "Goodnight Irene," complete with traded verses, many ad-libbed on the spot, and audience participation. It was a fun, loose evening of terrific original music.