Last Days of Summer 4:000:00/4:00
Mary's Window 4:230:00/4:23
Ford Econoline 2:290:00/2:29
These Days 3:540:00/3:54
Song of the Exiled 4:230:00/4:23
Independence Day 4:460:00/4:46
Gold Watch and Chain 3:070:00/3:07
Sixth Avenue 2:560:00/2:56
Loch Lomond 4:410:00/4:41
Janie's Waltz 2:520:00/2:52
THE BERKELEY PATCH - 3/30/23 - By John Roos
Lucy Kaplansky was at a career crossroads back in the early-1990’s. At the time, she was a staff psychologist treating mentally ill adults at a New York state hospital and had also established a private practice. She was simultaneously a burgeoning singer-songwriter performing locally in thriving New York City clubs with designs on transitioning to being a full-time musician. A risky move, indeed, but plunging ahead was a choice that propelled Kaplansky forward with no regrets.
Kaplansky, who has a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Yeshiva University, had been hanging out and collaborating with the like-minded Richard Shindell, Suzanne Vega, Nanci Griffith, and Shawn Colvin, among others. It was Colvin, in fact, who offered to produce Kaplanskly’s debut, The Tide, which was released on Red House Records in 1994. Six months later, she signed a contract with booking agency Fleming Artists and was on her way.
Kaplansky went on to flourish over the next 30 years with her folk music-based career. The enduring singer-songwriter-guitarist has released over a dozen albums supplemented by regular touring and a loyal fan base, with two upcoming Bay Area shows later this week at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley and the Hopmonk Tavern in Novato.
Still, how tough at the time was that career-altering decision for her to make?
“I had really wanted to sing full-time, so it was not an if but a when would I take that leap of faith,” recalled Kaplansky during a recent phone interview. “At that point, I had been working both (professions) for years and it was not an easy decision but once I made it, I never looked back. It was the right thing to do.”
Kaplansky draws from personal experiences for her lyrical subject matter, focusing on the often complex matters of the heart. Universal themes of loss, longing and loneliness, as well as love, joy, friendship and hope, are all propelled musically by roots-based instruments including acoustic guitars, mandolin, piano, percussion, and the occasional electric guitar. What Kaplansky seeks to capture and share in her songs are emotional truths, as she puts it, “When I listen to music, or even read something, it has to ring true to me in some deep way. I’m striving for that in my writing.”
Kaplansky’s latest independent release, Last Days of Summer, was created during the COVID pandemic and offers a mix of both the personal and political. The material ranges from the title track, a bittersweet, coming of age story song inspired by Kaplansky’s daughter, Molly, who was about to leave home for college; to the more socially-conscious “Mary’s Window,” which tackles the separatist mood, isolation, and finger-pointing that came to define the political climate during our previous presidential administration. For a sample of Kaplansky’s sound and style while performing “Mary’s Window,” go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VgCmQCG_bw
“I can’t plan or create a topic, I usually need to be moved by something,” Kaplansky revealed about her organic songwriting process. “It’s more like, let’s see where this line takes me, and then it can change direction if that feels right, maybe to a different tone or timbre mid-stream. I let the song lead me rather than following a plan of my own.”
As far as her business model, that’s a different story because Kaplansky does have a plan and she’s sticking to it. While digital streaming platforms, such as ITunes and Spotify, now dominate the music-buying industry, the royalties paid to the musicians—the actual creators of the art—are undeniably meager. [For every digital album sold on ITunes for $9.98, the artist receives only 94 cents, which is less than a 10 percent cut. The rest goes to the record label ($5.35) and Apple ($3.70).] Rather than participate in this lunacy, Kaplansky has been selling her music only on her website and at her live shows since 2015’s duo recording with Richard Shindell titled Tomorrow You’re Going.
How’s that been working out for her?
“There’s a lot to say about this but royalties are basically non-existent and it’s just not going to work for us as artists,” insists Kaplansky. “I had this flash of insight while out walking the dog, where I thought to myself, ‘What if I don’t put my music on the streaming services, then what?’ Well, I’ve sold a lot of my last few albums doing this. It works for me and honestly, it’s a lot more fun.”
With the exception of playing a few band gigs near her home base on the east coast, Kaplansky is touring primarily as a solo act these days as a result of economic necessity. But it’s not such a bad thing.
“Touring with a band is not feasible for people like myself,” she said, “because there’s just not enough income (generated) to make a living doing that. I do have complete freedom playing solo, though, and don’t have to worry about anyone else onstage. It is a powerful thing to do the solo shows and make it financially feasible.”
So, circling back to her doctorate in Clinical Psychology and her private practice, I asked Dr. Kaplansky if that education and experience have given her a unique understanding of the human condition that perhaps informs her story songs with such vivid character sketches?
“The way I look at this is that my training has made me insightful, wise, and informed in general—particularly about personal conflicts and motivations—but I don’t really see a direct line (to my songwriting,) although it certainly does affect my world-view,” answered Kaplansky. “Some of it likely seeps in subconsciously. Still, there’s so much for all of us to absorb from our everyday lives if you’re open-minded and curious.”
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.