NEW JERSEY ARTS 12/5/22 - Review of Montclair NJ show
“It was a long time before I could do this song without crying,” said Lucy Kaplansky before performing “This Is Home” — a love song about her husband and daughter — at The Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, Dec. 3. You could imagine her saying this about many of the songs performed in the course of the night.
There was “Old Friends,” for instance (not the Simon & Garfunkel song), inspired by her decades-long friendship with her former singing partner Shawn Colvin. “I remember us sitting on the floor singing every song we knew/Richard and Linda Thompson, Gram and Emmylou,” she sang, as if if lost in a reverie.
And there was “Last Days of Summer,” about her daughter Molly’s recent departure from home, to attend college, featuring lines such as “After 18 years, how can it be just one week more/Till we carry those boxes to her new room on the seventh floor.”
Kaplansky, a native of Chicago who has lived in New York since the ’80s, sang songs written in the aftermath of 9/11 (“Brooklyn Train,” “Land of the Living”) as well as “Mary’s Window,” which starts as a anguished look at pandemic-era isolation as well as the “sickness and hatred and bigotry” of pandemic-era politics but turns into a hopeful anthem. In “Song of the Exiled,” she found poetry in the lives of New York taxi drivers — immigrants from other country who have found hope in the United States.
Kaplansky — who sings with a hint of a twang, and has a knack for making her self-revealing lyrics sound conversational — backed herself on guitar, piano and mandolin during this solo show. She mentioned that she had been performed at the Outpost many times before, and had made her first public announcement that she was going to be a mother at a 2003 Outpost appearance. (Molly came to this Outpost show, Kaplansky said, serving as her road manager, but skipped the show itself in order to do homework backstage).
For much of the show, Kaplansky relied on requests from the audience, giving the evening a casual, intimate vibe. She also joked about the poor condition of the jacket she was wearing (“I asked Molly, ‘Is this OK?’ … she said, ‘It’s OK for tonight’ “) and in many other ways, too, gave the impression that she was just hanging out with friends, not performing for a crowd.
Kaplansky has self-released her last two albums — 2018’s Everyday Street and this year’s Last Days of Summer — as well as her 2011 Kaplansky Sings Kaplansky EP, featuring songs written by her late father, mathematician Irving Kaplansky (also an accomplished musician). She has gone further than most indie musicians, though, selling the CDs only through her website, lucykaplansky.com, and at shows, and not making them available through streaming services since she believes streaming services do not pay artists fairly.
Indeed, one of the angriest songs she performed at the Outpost, “End of the Day,” was directed at an unnamed musician who has sold out. She also seethed about a betrayal in “Turn the Lights Back On.” But her tone was, mostly, warm and nurturing. “I just want you to know that I’m fine now,” she reassured her fans after singing about her parental heartbreak in “Last Days of Summer.”
She performed one song from that Kaplansky Sings Kaplansky album: “A Song About Pi,” in which Irving Kaplansky cleverly translated the first 14 digits of the pi sequence (3.1415926535897) into a melody, as if the numbers represented notes on a scale, and also wrote lyrics such as “there was elation/Throughout the whole Greek nation/When Archimedes did his mighty computation.”
The show’s other covers — and there were a lot of them — were of a less intellectual nature. Kaplansky sang the Johnny Cash hit “Ring of Fire” (written by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore) and as well as the standard “White Christmas,” Nanci Griffith’s “I Wish It Would Rain,” Eliza Gilkyson’s “Sanctuary,” Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Swimming Song,” Dave Carter’s “Cowboy Singer” and Julie Miller’s “By Way of Sorrow.” And she closed her set (before encoring with “By Way of Sorrow”) with a hypnotic version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” that was unlike any I’ve ever heard before (and I’ve heard a lot), backing herself with an insistent strummed-guitar pulse.
And then “By Way of Sorrow” — an audience request, so not a pre-planned show-closer — summed up this introspective, sometimes dark but ultimately life-affirming show perfectly, via Miller’s assurance that “You have come by way of sorrow, you have come by way of tears/But you’ll reach your destiny, come to find you all these years.”
Folk singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky knocked my socks off and clear across the room with the opening track on “Everyday Street.” Not only does it include harmonies from Shawn Colvin, but Kaplansky also name-drops Richard and Linda Thompson, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
“Old Friends” is a look back at Kaplansky’s friendship with Colvin that dates back to the ’80s Greenwich Village folk scene. “So here we are in your hotel room, singing Gram and Emmylou/20 years, 20,000 roads have brought me back to you.” If there was an award category for best opening track of a record, “Old Friends” would be a serious contender. Kaplansky told me that Colvin wept halfway through the song when Kaplansky first played it for her, which led to her own tears and Colvin telling her it was the best gift anyone had ever given her. “She asked to sing the harmony on it when I told her I was going to record it.”
There seems to be a trend lately of singer-songwriters turning their focus toward nature....The latest remarkable record in this thread is Lucy Kaplansky’s Everyday Street. Kaplansky, who also has a PhD in clinical psychology, has a well-honed gift for making sense of the everyday, mundane details of life (“February morning, the news was on,” she sings in “Keeping Time”). Somehow when she sings these little notes, life’s apparently disparate dots connect, and we get an image that is equal parts heartbreaking, hopeful, and chocked full of humanity. On the album’s opening track, Kaplansky sings along with her old friend Shawn Colvin, about their early days as singer-songwriters, and all wisdom they’ve gained in hindsight. The song is equal parts nostalgia and gratitude, told through vignettes packed with the kinds of details that hint at the truth without feeling the need to spell it out. (“Suspending notes that don’t belong / seconds and sixths, whatever we want.”) READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE
On her spare, luminous new record Everyday Street, Lucy Kaplansky wrote a memoir in music .... The fullness and frailty of life pour out from its songs......“Old Friends” tells the beautiful story of her enduring connection with Shawn Colvin. The finished version is lovely beyond words and music, a glimpse into something special....The other songs on Everyday Street are just as good. READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE
THE NEW YORKER
Lucy Kaplansky is a truly gifted performer with a bag full of enchanting songs.
Kaplansky weaves...fragile lives together, making even tenuous connections as palpable as flesh and blood.
NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO – Lucy Kaplansky on Mountain Stage
Kaplansky closes with “Sleep Well,” a heartbreaking master class in making the personal universal.
THE BOSTON GLOBE: ON “REUNION” KAPLANSKY KEEPS IT IN THE FAMILY
On her latest album, “Reunion,” Lucy Kaplansky sings about her parents, her cousins, her daughter, and, naturally, herself. Then again, she is singing about you too.
As Kaplansky’s longtime producer Ben Wittman notes, “It’s funny how she is hitting these bigger themes at the same time she is going deeper and more personal in her writing.”
“Reunion” is Kaplansky’s most assured record to date, bounding from the delightful Amy Correia cover “Life Is Beautiful” to the stinging kiss-off “Gone Gone Gone” without swerving off course. The theme of “family” serves as a compass as Kaplansky charts a course from “Scavenger,” a song about a refugee rebuilding life on the move, to “Sleep Well,” a tender goodbye to a mother. READ ENTIRE ARTICLE
THE IRISH TIMES
Lucy displays an astute and inclusive awareness of the human condition.
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER March 13, 2015 “Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell join forces at World Café Live”
It took singer-songwriters Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell nearly 20 years to get around to making a record together, but only 24 hours for devoted fans to push past their initial goal of $40,000 to subsidize the resulting folk-roots effort, Tomorrow You’re Going. READ ENTIRE ARTICLE
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. READ ENTIRE ARTICLE