Christine Lavin
& the Mistletones,
The Runaway Christmas Tree:
Favorite Holiday Songs & Bedtime Stories

(Appleseed, 2003)

Christine Lavin takes a roundabout approach to the holiday season on The Runaway Christmas Tree: Favorite Holiday Songs & Bedtime Stories, her long-overdue Christmas recording.

The CD begins with an all-purpose song wishing people well no matter what holidays they're celebrating. Witty for its all-inclusiveness, "A Christmas/Kwanzaa/Solstice/Chanukah/Ramadan/Boxing Day Song" is also a great example of a multi-voice round. Lavin and her cohorts, the Mistletones, get a little atmospheric on track 2, the "Snow! Medley," and then it's time to tuck up your covers and hear the first of two bedtime stories, "The Runaway Christmas Tree," as allegedly told to Lavin's sleepless, inquisitive niece Holly.

There are whimsical takes on the season a-plenty; besides the first track, there's "The All Purpose Carol," which narrows the field just to Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa. "Elves" takes a very brief look at Santa's helpers a la ground round, while "Scalloped Potatoes" cheerily but repetitiously laments leftovers. The baroque classic, Pachelbel's "Canon in D," also becomes a round as the menu-oriented "Tacobel Canon." Lavin cuts out the excess and gets straight to the point with "Th 12 Dys f Chrstms," a varied and significantly abbreviated version of the English holiday classic.

The album has more sacred offerings, too -- "Dona Nobis Pacem," "Lamb & Lion," "Allelujah/Amen" and "Good Night to You All" -- and more straightforward rounds, like "A New Year's Round."

The second story, "Polkadot Pancakes," not only teaches a lesson about getting what you wish for, it also devises some real culinary calamities. Ian and Noah make a Christmas wish that turns every meal -- no matter how revolting -- into chocolate-chip pancakes, their favorite meal. But what if they tire of the treat? Lavin solves the problem during the 17-minute-long tale with the help of a Christmas angel, a very special ornament and, of course, Grandma.

The album features only vocals, with no instrumentation propping up the singers. Besides Lavin, the Mistletones are Gregory Clark, Julie Gold, Ervin Drake, Emily Bindiger, David Lutken, Margaret Dorn and Andrea Vuocolo. The only downside is that the two stories don't stand up to repeated playings as well as the songs do, and if you skip them you're left with a rather short CD. No worries, though -- it's a treat notwithstanding. The vocal rounds in particular -- inspired by New York's Sol "Roundman" Weber -- make for great holiday listening with great harmonies, precise timing and a big slice of seasonal cheer.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 20 December 2003

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