Christine Lavin rarely lets a year go by without releasing a new full-length album, making her one of contemporary folk music's most prolific artists. But because most of them are concert recordings, Lavin is generally thought of more as a side-splitting live performer than a recording artist. When Lavin released I Was in Love With a Difficult Man in 2002 it had been five years since she'd cut a record in the studio. Perhaps that accounts for the ebullient creative energy that bounds throughout the album. Lavin seems to relish the opportunity to collaborate with other musicians and creates layered and textured arrangements that would have been impossible in a solo performance. Her producer, Steve Rosenthal, seems to take much of his inspiration from Suzanne Vega, who actually did produce Lavin's poignant ballad "Firehouse" for a collection of songs about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. "All You Want Is What You Want" and "Strangers Talk to Me" are particularly influenced by Vega's sharply rhythmic techno folk. As usual, Lavin's songs alternate between hilarious comic observation ("Sunday Breakfast With Christine" is a recipe set to music, "Trade Up" is a witty exploration of cocktail-party politics) and wistful, dramatic storytelling ("For Carloyn/Something Beautiful" celebrates the life of a departed relative, "Looked Good on Paper" is a painful ballad about a failed affair). But unlike many of her live recordings, which are dominated by reworked old favorites and sometimes under-developed new material, I Was in Love With a Difficult Man feels meticulously and thoroughly crafted. Several of these songs deserve a place among Lavin's best, undoubtedly destined to reappear repeatedly on future concert albums.
AllMusic Review by Evan Cater