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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

April 23, 1997
Laugh Out Slightly 
Christine Lavin Christine Lavin, Shining My Flashlight on the Moon (Shanachie 1997) - Veteran folk performer Christine Lavin (and a member of the Four Bitchin' Babes) has weighed in with her ninth album, the sweet and gentle, Shining My Flashlight on the Moon. Mixing folk, comedy, and acoustic, the new album shows Lavin to be an accomplished artist.

With her years of performing, Lavin has developed an extensive following. But, according to her, not an extensive knowledge of the studio. Shining My Flashlight was recorded in Lavin's newly-created home studio, where she "made every engineering mistake you could possibly make -- some so bizarre that (engineer) Steven Rosenthal put them in a notebook of 'Bonehead Moves.'"

But none of those "bonehead moves" appear on Shining My Flashlight. Instead, Lavin delivers an album that is wistful, humorous, and compassionate, by alternate turns. Thus, "The Polka-Dancing Bus Driver" is a touching tale about a man who returns to his 40th high school anniversary to discover why none of the girls would dance with him as a youngster (Answer - they didn't know how).

"The Scent of Your Cologne" was occasioned when Lavin "was waiting for an elevator on the 73rd floor of the World Trade Center when the doors opened and the scent of aftershave wafted through the air - the aftershave that my Dad wore. Instantly, I was propelled back in time and remembered him more vividly than I had in years."

The comic "Snackin'" is a humorous ditty about fishes who have learned how not to get caught; likewise, "If I Ruled the World" is about all the inventions that Lavin would create to avoid embarrassment or annoyance.

Where Lavin shines is on songs about the underdog, such as "Planet X," a song about the planet Pluto and its proponents. (Evidently, there's a significant dispute in the scientific world as to whether Pluto really is a planet.)

Like Al Stewart, Lavin takes ordinary events and uses sophisticated (and unusual) rhymes to create lengthy but rewarding songs. (The lyrics are so long that Lavin set up a web page for them.) Fans of the thoughtful songwriting will enjoy Shining My Flashlight on the Moon.
LAugh Tracks Various Artists, Christine Lavin Presents: Laugh Tracks Volume I (Shanachie 1996) - Laugh Tracks consists of two evenings of comedy recorded on last summer at the Bottom Line in New York City. While songwriter and comedian Christine Lavin is billed as the brains behind Laugh Tracks, she only appears on a few cuts.

Described as "20 Funny Folk Songs," Laugh Tracks was intended by Lavin as "aural Prozac." Adds Levin, "we're trying to put the any-depressant drug companies out of business."

Not surprisingly, this is the kind of music that you either love or hate, as Vance Gilbert performs "Country Western Rap," and Patty Larkin "channels" Marlene Dietrich.

The highlight of the set is Chuck Brodsky's "Blow 'em Away," a hilarious ditty about a mild-mannered but stressed office worker who just wants to get home - even if he to use a handgun to motivate inconsiderate drivers.

A slight gem, Laugh Tracks will tickle your funny bone.

Maria Kalaniemi
Maria Kalaniemi, Iho (Rykodisc 1997) - Thirty-two-year-old Finnish musician Maria Kalaniemi, master of the five-row and free-based accordion, has been a leader of her country's folk music revival for the past decade.

Maria has an extensive background in classical, jazz, pop and rock (in fact, while she was a student, she transcribed Jimi Hendrix solos for accordion), so it's not surprising that her music appeals to a diverse audience.

Maria was formerly an instructor in accordion at her alma mater, The Sibelius Academy , but now devotes herself full-time to composing and recording. Last year she was the first folk artist to receive the "Prize of Finland" award for artistic excellence.

Maria's first solo release (issued stateside by Green Linnet) boasted traditional Finnish and Swedish tunes, polkas, tangos, Balkaan arrangements, and original compositions.

Meaning that Maria has few peers. On Iho, her second solo album, she energetically takes off from the fertile breeding ground of Finnish folk and incorporates elements of classical, jazz, and rock into her own brand of distinctive contemporary music.

By taking the squeeze box to a more subdued, worldly place than such U.S. artists as Santiago Jimenez, Maria displays a haunting talent. Enjoy Iho.
Body Count Body Count, Violent Demise (Virgin 1997) - The new album from Body Count will probably sell in big numbers. Which isn't deserved. Violent Demise managed to offend even this hardened old hedonist.
When the chorus to one of the songs is "I want my d*ck sucked," this stuff ain't art. It's everything that rap is despised for. Virgin should know better.
Imperial Monkeys Carolyn Wonderland & The Imperial Monkeys, Bursting with Flavor (Justice 1997) - Houston-based Carolyn Wonderland has been working as a musician for a decade. Bursting with Flavor shows that she has solid chops. The album starts with a great Keith Richards guitar-based intro, but quickly moves into noisy blues, which is Carolyn's forte. Twelve honest and unpretentious cuts.

-- Randy Krbechek
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