Christina Courtin’s Situation Station, recorded four years after the release of Varsity, can best be described as a tapestry of her musical and life experiences. As she weaves together her dual worlds, the singer-songwriter and classically trained violinist guide listeners through somber plains and heartbreak, all the while surrounding them with warmth, joy, and hope. With its stark vocals and rich arrangements, Situation Station seeks to stir the same depth of emotion in others that Courtin has imbued in each of her album’s songs.
“This record is incredibly special to me, because it was created by and with so many musicians who are a big part of my life on a daily basis,” she explains. “We recorded the orchestra tracks in Chicago after a taping of a Mozart Symphony in the morning at WFMT with The Knights.” The Knights are a group Courtin helped establish back in 2001 during her early days at Juilliard, and the members of the band on the recording (Greg Cohen, Kenny Wollesen, Michael LaValle, Danny Fox, Chris Parker, and James Shipp) are her longtime and frequent collaborators. This celebration of history and community lies at the core of her record, including the title track, which evokes a nostalgia for the comfort of family.
To create Situation Station, Courtin pushed herself both creatively and compositionally. “I had all the arrangements written, but we, as the orchestra, went into it blind without any rhythm tracks. I was nervous because usually an orchestra is the last thing to go on a recording. But I did some research and found out that Jeff Lynn (among others) was no stranger to this technique and, in fact, recorded this way purposefully. Looking back on the experience as a whole, I wouldn’t have changed a thing, because it put parameters on the band in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do with words alone. When we finally got down to recording the songs, it was thrilling to hear them come to life and take shape. In the end, I’m not sure if this recording came out the way I expected, but I’m also not sure if I had any expectations at all. I had so much faith in the musicians that I felt free to let them take the songs and do what they do best.”
In addition to her solo work, Courtin and Michael LaValle started a band called Pilot Violet that released a record in 2016 called Nite Farm. As she explains, “We thought, maybe we’ll retire from music after this, and become farmers. But I’m not a morning person, so we’d need to farm at night.” She has also been a collaborator and side(wo)man to many artists and groups, most recently including Bonnie Prince Billy, Planetarium, Doyle Bramhall II, Lee Ann Womack, Nico Muhly, Dr. Dog, Lisa Loeb, Sara Barellies, and the Buffalo Philharmonic. She is a featured soloist for the films Chappaquiddick and Free State of Jones, and occasionally writes music for This American Life. As an educator, Christina has led a Songwriting Composition Seminar at Dartmouth College for undergraduates as well as an Independent Study for graduate students, and was also a teaching fellow and performer at Sing-Sing Correctional Facility through the Musical Connections Program at Carnegie Hall.