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Lucy Kaplansky


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Contemporary folk

Status:

Most recent release, Reunion (2012)

See also:

Lucy Kaplansky's site

The Ectophiles' Guide entry for Cry Cry Cry, a side project. Red Horse is another side project: Red House Records' Red Horse page

Comparisons:

Suzanne Vega has been mentioned, and I can see that somewhat musically, but not vocally. Lucy is more folky, and maybe a touch of country. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Covers/own material:

Own music, mostly co-written lyrics, and covers

General comments:

Unpredictable? I find her first two albums really uneven. In general, I like her original songs better than the covers. There are moments of brilliance. Really good songs that I can listen to over and over again and get something new out of, and then there are songs that I almost always skip over, and some that don't move me at all one way or the other. But the good songs...sigh. She's worth checking out if you are a big contemporary folk fan or you like her singing with Cry Cry Cry. (JoAnn Whetsell)

She's a singer/songwriter. She's a psychologist. Yes, she's both.
     Lucy sang with Shawn Colvin in the early '80s. Then she wasn't sure about her career path, and she went to graduate school and earned a Ph.D. in psychology, so she truly is Dr. Kaplansky, as she was announced last year at the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest.
     She returned to music; Shawn Colvin produced her cd, The Tide, which includes original songs and covers. As of information from this past winter, she has a small therapy practice in NYC, and she's performing.
     She has a fine voice and tells good stories. (Silme@ix.netcom.com)

She sounds a lot like what would have happened if Suzanne Vega had had a bad headcold when recording her first album. :) (Which is to say, she has a rather nasal voice.) She's one of those people who has been part of the NYC folk mafia forever. She's appeared on more songs singing backup for other people than she has on her own work so far. I haven't heard much of her newer stuff, but The Tide, her full-length debut, has some stunning songwriting on it. She falls into the category of performer whom I like quite a bit when I hear on the radio and will gladly see play on the same bill as somebody else I'm into more, but I won't ever listen to a full CD.
     Umm, my opinion has always been that we'd all be better off if she stuck with being a backup singer. Apparently, that's becoming a minority view. Her voice is whiny and comes out straight through her nose, and her songwriting leaves a *lot* to be desired. However, she and Richard Shindell are a musical match made in heaven. She is the consummate backup singer: she knows exactly when to be heard and when to be silent, she's a wonderful harmonizer, and she adds a lot to every song she participates in, both live and on record. Her voice blends perfectly with Richard's, and the result is to die for. I was truly disappointed to hear that she'd decided to ditch the backup singer thing to concentrate on a career in the spotlight. Lucy Kaplansky is great as a backing vocalist, but her voice is way too nasal for my tastes. (meth@smoe.org)

Hmmmm...I saw her in concert this past fall and have both of her cds. She's not really one of my favorite singers, but I wouldn't say she's *awful*. (Riphug@aol.com)

I learned my lesson last year when I said some mildly negative things about Lucy Kaplansky (based entirely on Flesh And Bone. Then we went to a Cry Cry Cry show and found her to be a wonderful vocalist and a very good guitarist, but most of all an engaging personality with stage presence to spare, not to mention being Cry Cry Cry's nod to sex appeal.... :) We've since acquired both her first album and the brand new one and I realize now that I was dead wrong about her.
     Please Lucy, can you forgive me for my hasty remarks and prejudgement of you? You're likely a wonderful therapist but we think you're first and foremost a musical artist of note and a definite rising star. (rkonrad@ibm.com)

Comments about live performance:

Well, I've seen Lucy Kaplansky twice in the last few months. Once on the Cry Cry Cry tour, and once solo. She's a fine songwriter, although not very distinctive. Her singing is simple and plain, her guitar work is middling. But her lyrics can be something special, particularly in the title track of her latest CD. Her solo live show was highlighted by a nice repartee with the audience. It was a nice show. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

Well, thanks to the lukewarm recommendations here, I went to see Lucy Kaplansky tonight, and now I can echo them myself. I thought she was a surprisingly agile and spirited guitar player, but I found something off-putting about her singing. I could sometimes see the Suzanne Vega comparisons, which would show up sometimes in her phrasing and songwriting. But I found her songs overwhelmed by an earnestness and seriousness that was unrelenting. Every song was given the same treatment, almost as if she was squeezing each one out through clenched teeth. I almost expected to hear her add "dammit" to the end of every other line. There were a few moments where she almost loosened up, and you'd get a hint of the potential she had. I had pretty much given up on anything interesting happening when she played a fantastic song for her final number. It was the first time she let any sort of sensitivity or frailty through, and it was quite striking. The chorus had her singing "I have nothing for you tonight" over and over again. From all her other songs, I'd have expected it to be a cry of independence, or at least implying that she had nothing to offer and that was tough (dammit). Instead, she pulled out a sense of resignation and loss, which I certainly didn't think she had in her.
     I found her almost completely bland and uninteresting, but not without a spark of hope. The final song she played caught me by surprise, because I actually liked it. It was beautiful and powerful. I have liked her as a backup singer though, on Dar Williams and Richard Shindell albums. (neal)

The best part was when the sprinklers came on at 8.20 and spun in circles and drenched the picnickers. The music (folk and country) was fine—good covers (Julie Miller x2, Johnny Cash x2, Paul McCartney, Loudon Wainwright) and remarkably predictable originals. The mosh pit was great—kindergarteners, who drove security wild as they climbed on speakers and tried to stuff grass into the equipment. Lucy's Chinese daughter snuck on stage for a goodnight kiss, and there were several touching songs about her adoption. (6/07, karen.hester@gmail.com)

Recommended first album:

Either The Tide or Flesh and Bone. If you prefer her covers, get The Tide first; if you prefer her original songs get Flesh and Bone. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Recordings:


The Tide

Release info:

1994—Red House Records (PO Box 4044, St. Paul, MN 55104, U.S.A.)—RHR CD 65

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Medium

Group members:

Lucy Kaplansky—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Larry Campbell—acoustic and lap steel guitar, fiddle, dobro, cittern, pedal steel guitar
Anton Sanko—lap steel guitar, organ
Michael Visceglia—bass
Frank Vilardi—percussion
Shawn Colvin—background vocals, acoustic guitar, foot taps
Drew Zingg—acoustic guitar, background vocals, electric guitar
Barry Mitterhoff—mandolin
Roly Salley—bass, background vocals
Charles Giordano—accordion
Kenneth Blevins—percussion, drums
Richard Shindell—background vocals
Michael Kobetisch—pennywhistle
Rick Palley—acoustic bass

Produced by:

Shawn Colvin, Anton Sanko

Comments:

Oh, oh, oh. That song! ("The Tide") I love that song! I love that song so much it makes me incoherent!
     Talk on the ecto list inspired me to pull out my copy of The Tide and listen to it a few times over the past couple of days. It's not a bad album, lots of covers, some which work well (Cliff Eberhardt's "Goodnight" is a gorgeous song, and it's impossible to make Tom Russell & Greg Trooper's "The Heart" sound bad), and some which don't quite gel (Sting's "Secret Journey" is one such). There are a few originals which aren't bad but aren't exceptional either, and then there's the title track. Did I mention that I love this song? I love this song! The version on the album is great. In general I don't think Lucy's voice is really capable of all that much expression (it's too nasal, plus she's got a pretty thick accent) but she really pulls it off on this song. Co-written by herself and Richard Litvin (who's Richard Litvin?), this song just oozes "*sigh*". It's about a woman who's lost all her joy as she's grown up. The lyrics are great. Did I mention I love this song? (Sherlyn.Koo)

Ah, yes, The Tide. For the longest time that was the only Lucy Kaplansky song I'd ever heard, because it was the only one WFUV ever played (over and over and over and over and...). It is a stunningly beautiful song. Too bad she couldn't be that brilliant all the time. (meth@smoe.org)

I go back and forth on my opinion of this album. Sometimes I like it much better than other times. Some songs are consistently enjoyable. "The Tide" (one of 3 originals) is gorgeous and stirring, "Goodnight" is also really beautiful. Overall, it's really laid-back, and perhaps it is this rather than actual dislike of any of the songs, that bothers me. It's a little easy for the songs to blend together. But it's a good and worthwhile album. Shawn Colvin provides some nice harmonies, and I really like the extensive use of mandolin. (JoAnn Whetsell)


Flesh and Bone

Release info:

1996—Red House Records (PO Box 4044, St. Paul, MN 55104, U.S.A.)—RHR CD 92

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Medium

Group members:

Lucy Kaplansky—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Larry Campbell—acoustic, electric, and pedal steel guitar, fiddle, mandolin, dobro, cittern
Anton Sanko—organ, acoustic and lap steel guitar, tiple
Zev Katz—bass
Frank Vilardi—percussion, drums
Marc Shulman—acoustic and electric guitar
Jennifer Kimball—background vocals
John Gorka—background vocals
Richard Shindell—background vocals
Gary Schreiner—accordion
Drew Zingg—electric guitar

Produced by:

Anton Sanko, Larry Campbell

Comments:

I think Flesh and Bone is a much stronger album than The Tide, mainly due to her doing mostly original work and stronger cover choices. I like all of the original songs here, and "The Return of the Grievous Angel" is particularly good. I don't play this album a lot, but when I do, I am always pleasantly surprised at how much I like it. (JoAnn Whetsell)

This was one of my favorites of 1997; though it came out in 1996, I really fell in love with her just this year. (jjhanson@att.net)


Ten Year Night

Release info:

1999—Red House Records (PO Box 4044, St. Paul, MN 55104., U.S.A.)—RHR CD 126

Availability:

Medium

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Lucy Kaplansky—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Larry Campbell—pedal steel guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin, violin, electric baritone guitar
Jon Herington—electric and slide guitars, harmonium, acoustic guitar
Zev Katz—bass, acoustic bass
Ben Wittman—percussion, drums, shaker, organ
Duke Levine—electric guitar, acoustic slide guitar, mandola, Fender 12-string electric guitar, Fender 12-string electric slide guitar
Richard Shindell—harmony vocal
John Gorka—harmony vocal
Jennifer Kimball—harmony vocal, background vocals

Produced by:

Ben Wittman

Comments:

I was looking forward to this album because I generally prefer Lucy's own songs to her covers, and I knew she had said there would only be one cover on this album. It is one of the better songs on the album ("Somewhere Out There" by Steve Earle.) The album is bland and has almost no range. It just doesn't do anything for me; I neither like it nor hate it. Her lyrics aren't as strong as usual, and the songs are all about the same tempo, which does nothing to distinguish them from each other. This is only my second listen, but I honestly don't sense much growing potential here. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Ten Year Night is excellent. It's very much along the same country/folk vein as her previous two albums and is definitely my favourite of her albums so far. (Sherlyn.Koo)


Every Single Day

Release info:

2001—Red House Records (PO Box 4044, St. Paul, MN 55104 USA)—RHR CD 156

Availability:

Wide in the U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended (highly recommended for fans)

Group members:

Lucy Kaplansky—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Larry Campbell—electric guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, cittern, mandolin, fiddle, slide guitar
Duke Levine—electric guitars, solo on "Crazy Dreams" and "Nowhere," acoustic guitar, mandola
Jon Herington—electric guitar, slide guitar
Zev Katz—bass
Ben Wittman—drums, percussion, keyboards
Jennifer Kimball—background vocals on 3 tracks
John Gorka—background vocal on 2 tracks
Buddy Miller—background vocal on 1 track
Richard Shindell—background vocal on 1 track

Produced by:

Ben Wittman

Comments:

I picked up Lucy's new album Every Single Day somewhat hesitant (I didn't like her last album Ten Year Night at all) and somewhat hopeful (I really like her first 2 albums The Tide and Flesh and Bone). Well, I'm happy to report she's regained her stride. This is a strong album. Mostly her own and co-written songs with 3 covers (good choices this time, especially "The Angels Rejoiced Last Night" which is one of the best tracks on the album.) She has lovely harmonies, whether done by herself or background vocalists Jennifer Kimball, Buddy Miller, John Gorka, and Richard Shindell (who all appear, but never on the same track), so again, the harmonies are some of the most beautiful parts of her music. Well worth getting if you like Lucy or her work with Cry Cry Cry. (JoAnn Whetsell)

The Red Thread

Release info:

2004—Red House Records—RHR CD 166

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Lucy Kaplansky—acoustic guitar, vocals

Guest artists:

Jon Herington—electric and 12-string guitars, solo, acoustic guitar, harmonium, electric solo (5)
Duke Levine—national steel, electric guitar, mandola, electric mandolin, electric 12-string guitar, ambience, guitorgan, slide guitar, slide solo (5), electric slide guitar
Zev Katz—baritone guitar, bass
Ben Wittman—drum set, percussion, Wurlitzer, keyboards, drums, piano
Brian Mitchell—organ
Andy Ezrin—piano
Richard Shindell—background vocals (1)
John Gorka—background vocals (2, 4)
Jonatha Brooke—background vocals (3)
Eliza Gilkyson—background vocals (5)

Produced by:

Ben Wittman

Comments:

I didn't know Lucy had a new album until it was recommended to me on Amazon.com after placing another order. I'm glad for the recommendation, because it's a wonderful album, perhaps her best yet, and I would hate to have missed it.
     Lucy recently adopted a Chinese orphan. She explains in the liner notes that the title "The Red Thread" comes from an ancient Chinese belief that when a child is born, invisible red threads reach out from its spirit to all the important people who will be part of its life. This album is about the threads that bind her to others, and all of us to each other.
     The first song, "I Had Something," and "This Is Home" are most directly about the adoption of her daughter. "Line in the Sand" discusses the Palestinan-Israeli conflict without taking sides and could be about any number of troubled places in the world. Some of the other songs reflect on September 11, at least I interpret them that way. And it makes sense. That event, looming so large on the national and world consciousness, caused so many of us to think about our relationships, personal and otherwise. I don't know if Lucy is still in New York, but I know she started her singing career there. In some ways, the album seems like a love song to the city with new songs like "Brooklyn Train' and covers like "Love Song/New York."
     The song most directly about 9/11 is "Land of the Living." When I first read the lyrics, I thought to myself, yes, that is what it was like. She captures the chaos, the sadness, and even the racism, that existed in NYC after 9/11 with details like the flowers at the fire stations and the posters asking for information on missing persons. It's a deeply affecting song.
     And a deeply affecting album. And not heavy. There are fun songs, covers like "Off and Running" and "Cowboy Singer." There is the obligatory honky-tonk song (there always seems to be at least one on her albums, and I have yet to like any of them), but despite that, it's beautiful through and through. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Over the Hills

Release info:

2007—Red House Records—RHR CD 200

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Lucy Kaplansky—acoustic guitar, vocals, background vocals

Guest artists:

Larry Campbell—pedal steel guitar, electric slide guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, fiddle, National steel guitar, mandolin, dobro
Duke Levine—mandola, electric guitar, National steel guitar, acoustic 12-string guitar, electric mandolin
Stephan Crump—acoustic bass, electric bass
Ben Wittman—percussion, harmonium, drum set, 12-string electric guitar, organ, floor tom
Jonatha Brooke—background vocals (3)
Charlie Giordano—accordion
Richard Shindell—background vocals (5, 10)
John Herington—acoustic guitar (7); electric guitar (9)
Eliza Gilkyson—background vocals (7)
Buddy Miller—background vocals (8)

Produced by:

Ben Wittman

Comments:

Lucy Kaplansky's gotten consistently better over her last couple of albums. I'm not sure that Over the Hills tops 2004's The Red Thread, but it's right up there. The arrangements and playing may even be better. Lyrically, the songs range from putting a child to sleep to domestic abuse to childhood memories. I was surprised to find out that fully half the tracks are covers. Usually the better songs on Lucy's album are the ones she wrote (or co-wrote) herself. But these all work together; she makes all these stories her own. (JoAnn.Whetsell)

Further info:

Lucy has provided guest vocals on numerous albums. Her own songs appear on several compilations. Recordings only available on compilations include: "Brake a Train" on Greenwich Village Folk Festival: W. 4th & 6th Ave.; "It Ain't Me, Babe" on the Bob Dylan tribute A Nod to Bob; and "Small Dark Movie" on Going Driftless: An Artists' Tribute to Greg Brown.


Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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