Good as it was, Christine Lavin’s 2010 holiday sampler CD Just One Angel wasn’t enough.
The contemporary folk music queen has assembled a second collection of Christmas/Hannukah/New Year songs, Just One Angel v2.0, featuring 20 more seasonal tunes, all co-produced by her and Andrew Ratshin of Seattle trio Uncle Bonsai for release Nov. 19 on Yellow Tail Records.
Both Lavin and Ratshin have songs on v2.0 (Lavin’s is “Christmas 1899” and Ratshin’s, with Uncle Bonsai, is “Seasonal Work”). They’re joined by both veteran and young artists, namely, David Roth, Shelby & Tieg, Honor Finnegan, David Roche, Spottiswoode & His Enemies, Emily Kurn, Craig Werth, Bernice Lewis, Tom Paxton, John Margolis, Amy Speace, Tom Wopat with Tedd Firth, Field & Franz, Don White, Claudia Russell and Bruce Kaplan, Lou and Peter Berryman, and Ilene Weiss.
The album closes with the titletrack “Just One Angel,” by Ratshin, using his solo artist name Electric Bonsai Band, with Gwen Franz.
The initial Just One Angel entry was released in December, 2010, and became the top album that month for FOLKDJ-L, the online list serving folk-based music DJs and fans. It featured 22 songs by diverse artists including actors Jeff Daniels and David Rasche, legendary folkies Janis Ian and Kate Taylor (with James on harmony), New York a cappella group The Accidentals and Uncle Bonsai.
While the album’s title came from Ratshin's song, Lavin decided against using his version.
“I didn't consider it a true holiday song,” she explains. “It's more like a prayer for guidance during the desperate times we find ourselves living in. So I asked Seattle classical guitarist Hilary Field if she could write up a solo classical guitar chart of the song, and that is what is on the first Just One Angel."
Lavin toured with Uncle Bonsai in December, 2011, and then again in December, 2012. Each concert was augmented in cities where other Just One Angel album artists lived by their special guest appearances.
“But a funny thing happened,” Lavin relates. “I asked Andrew to sing the original version of the song in the concerts, and audiences loved it.”
But Ratshin’s performance of the song last December iin Sterling Heights, Michigan received such strong positive response from the audience that Lavin actually got angry emails the next day.
“One wrote, ‘After I heard that beautiful song "Just One Angel," I ran out to the lobby to buy the album even before the show was over. Imagine my surprise to find out that on the disc, it wasn't Andrew singing the song! The guitar version is lovely, but what was this? Some kind of bait and switch?’"
Lavin was stunned.
“At lunch at the motel diner that next day somewhere in the middle of Michigan, I read the email aloud to the other musicians who had been in the show the night before--Uncle Bonsai and Don White,” she says. “On the spot we decided we had to do a second edition of Just One Angel, this time including Andrew's version. And we asked Don to be part of it, doing the song he had done the night before that the audience loved.”
Having realized her mistake in not including Ratshin’s version of Just One Angel—and deciding to append v2.0 to the original album title for the second edition's--she brought in Ratshin (who came up with a string quartet arrangement for his new version of “Just One Angel”) as co-producer, in order to “open up the project to a greater variety of songs.” Sure enough, well over 100 submissions came in after word went out via Facebook and FOLKDJ-L.
While the original intention was to find all new songs, they decided to also accept “great songs that were barely known,” like Ilene Weiss’s “Tree,” from her album Weiss Christmas.
“Ultimately we narrowed it down to 20 songs that we felt stood on their own, and also worked together as a whole,” says Lavin. “Andrew's ‘Just One Angel’ closes it: We found that with its lush arrangement and its quiet, fervent prayer, what better way to end than this? This has been a difficult year for many of us, and ending with a prayer instead of a laugh makes a lot of sense.”
As for the Uncle Bonsai track “Seasonal Work,” it’s “a brand new song about an aspect of winter that I don't think anyone has thought of before, the antithesis of ‘Just One Angel,’” she notes.
But as is her wont, Lavin cheerleads for all the artists.
“There are some new ones here that I hope will get noticed: Shelby & Tieg, an L.A.-based 20-something duo who wrote their song ‘Mistletoe’ just for this project. An Alaskan songwriter named Emily Kurn who has written one of the best new Hanukkah songs I've ever heard, ‘Light The Lamp.’ Folk legend Tom Paxton has a really fun new song that, well, I don't want to give it away, but it's very clever, the kind of song about which other songwriters instantly say, ‘Why didn’t I write that?’”
She expects Honor Finnegan’s new song "Snow Day" to become “a perennial favorite,” she adds.
“I hooked her up with Margaret Dorn of The Accidentals to arrange the vocals, so it was nice to connect artists from both albums.”
Lavin further cites other “wonderful singer-songwriters” with new songs, including Craig Werth from New Hampshire, Claudia Russell from San Francisco and Bernice Lewis from Williamstown, Mass.
“My own song is about a block on the Upper West Side that has a unique Christmas connection,” Lavin continues. “An acoustic rock band that Brit Jonathan Spottiswoode fronts--Spottiswoode & His Enemies--has a song centered on another part of Manhattan, ‘Chelsea Boys.’ The Roches' brother David Roche sings ‘No Room At The Inn,’ and actor Tom Wopat, with pianist Tedd Firth, do one of the bleakest New Year's songs ever, ‘The Last Night Of The Year.’ This collection explores the light and dark sides of the holidays!”
She says she’ll always remember “pounding the pavement in the sweltering of summer, 2013, walking the streets of Manhattan with my iPod and listening to—and sequencing--Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year songs!”
The Just One Angel v2.0 2013 Tour, featuring Christine Lavin, Uncle Bonsai and special guests, commences Dec. 6 at the Amazing Thing Arts Center in Framingham, Mass. and ends Dec. 21 at the WOW Hall in Eugene, Ore., and includes two nights at The Duplex in New York, Dec. 9 and 10. Honor Finnegan is special guest at the early Dec. 9 show, David Roche at the late show; Ilene Weiss guests at the Dec. 10 early show and Tom Wopat with Tedd Firth at the late show.
[The Examiner is cited on Page 362 of Christin Lavin's Cold Pizza For Breakfast: A Mem-wha??]
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