Listening to Lucy Kaplansky’s music is a pretty good way to get to know her.
The 53-year-old’s catalog is filled with near-confessional contemplations she composes with her husband and writing partner Richard Litvin. Her 2004 album “The Red Thread” considered 9/11 and the arrival of her adopted daughter, each in stories both specific and meticulous. On her most recent collection, last year’s “Reunion,” she ruminated on the passing of her parents, in intimate detail. Her work is a reminder of the powerful allure possible in art delivered without obfuscation, and makes her an exception to the old maxim about separating art from artist.
Speaking from her Manhattan home, Kaplansky says, , “with pretty much any artist who does the sort of thing I do, you’re going to learn a lot about them through the ideas they emphasize in their music, but because my songs are very autobiographical, it’s fair to say people are learning things about my life. With an artist like Richard Shindell who writes a lot of fictional things, it’s harder to know that person, but we’re both still ultimately doing the same thing, which is to find the best way to tell a story. However you approach it, you have to make it lyrical, beautiful and good.”
Working with her husband is part of the filtration of ideas into art, and Kaplansky notes that what she does is not simple documentation. “I have changed some identifying features, so it’s not strictly true, but one thing that amazes me is how songs can affect an audience even if the details are specific to my own life. When it comes to the details, I worry about them only in terms of whether they are true in an emotional sense.”
Kaplansky was part of one memorable folk coalition with “Cry Cry Cry” in 1998 alongside Shindell and Wesleyan graduate Dar Williams, and more recently signed on for another in the form of Red Horse, partnering with Eliza Gilkyson and John Gorka for an album and touring. Although Red Horse has been on the road together of late, for Sunday night’s show at Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, it will be a two-artist show featuring Kaplansky and Gilkyson. It will be the first time the two of them have split a bill, and the show will include solo and collaborative material.
Kaplansky’s portion will include some numbers with emotional heft, but will also a mix of coolly rendered covers and funny material (possibly including her mathematician father’s lively “Song About Pi” should fortune shine upon those in attendance), pieces of what she describes as “leavening” her performance. She says, “I think it was something Ann Landers once said: one third for the mind, one third funny and one third sad, and that’s kind of what I go for. Some of being a performer is learning how to sing and play your instrument, but along the way, you also have to learn how to find that right balance to connect with an audience.”