Lucy Kaplansky forges haunting, psychologically-savvy adult pop
Singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky
(PITTSFIELD, Mass., March 10, 2002) – Lucy Kaplansky gave one of her strongest performances in memory at the Berkshire Museum on Saturday night. The New York-based singer-songwriter was a commanding presence over the course of two long sets, during which she treated the audience to a wide range of moods and emotions ranging from love to hate and tenderness to scorn.
It’s that emotional complexity that separates Kaplansky from the rest of the new-folk pack. It’s easy to attribute her deeper, more profound portrayal of human emotion to her background as a psychologist, but clinical training alone can’t account for Kaplansky’s deft way with a cutting phrase. She knows where to cut, sure, but she also does so with the artful grace of a poet and the beauty of a jazz singer.
Kaplansky is the master of the cutting couplet. “Water is holy when it falls from the sky/Water tastes bitter when it falls from your eyes.” “With her entourage around her she sits on her throne/But she’s the queen of nothing now, she’s sitting all alone.” “Enough with the mood lighting, I’m not in the mood/Apparently I don’t have the right attitude.”
One could go on and quote dozens of memorable lines like these that Kaplansky sang on Saturday night from songs off her four albums, plus a few from her recording Cry Cry Cry with Dar Williams and Richard Shindell, and a few choice cover tunes.
Kaplansky got things started with an old George Jones country ballad. Her voice was dusky and rich in the low registers, and yearning and occasionally piercing in the upper. She kept rhythms and chordal bedrock on her acoustic guitar for most of the night, while electric guitarist Duke Levine provided contrast, color, commentary and counterpoint that never got in her way but rather artfully punctuated her music with sympathy and understanding.
Kaplansky has her own style forged from a combination of country, folk, pop and rock music. In addition to the aforementioned Jones, Kaplansky sang a gorgeous Gram Parsons ballad, accompanying herself on grand piano with surprising lushness (note to Lucy: more piano, please!).
“One Good Reason” boasted the epic sweep of classic Paul Simon, with the deft, poetic wordplay and all-American, chugging rhythm of a railroad. “Don’t Mind Me” was a giddy confection that recalled the Beatles, with Levine contributing some very George Harrison-like guitar parts and Kaplansky stretching vocally with dreamy, slurry grace notes.
“Guilty as Sin” could have been a hit for Roy Orbison, and Kaplansky turned the tables on Nick Lowe’s new-wave anthem “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” in a bluegrass version that found the sincerity buried beneath the venomous sarcasm. She brought back an authentic Scottish folk ballad from a recent visit to Scotland, and sang a mischievous parody of the classic pop tune “‘A’ You’re Adorable,” drafted by her mathematician father, Irving Kaplansky.
All these influences come together in her best songs – dark, haunted, haunting material like “Nowhere” and the title track to her great new album, Every Single Day – songs that in their craft and delivery easily rank with the best of adult-pop singer-songwriters like Sting and James Taylor.
Pittsfield’s own Adam Michael Rothberg warmed up the crowd with a mellow set of his well-crafted original songs and some dazzling fretwork.
A concert at the Berkshire Museum apparently can’t go by without a complaint about the sound. In the past, equipment failure seemed to be the cause of poor sound. This time out, it was harder to pinpoint just what made the sound problematic. The balance of guitar and vocals seemed to vary widely throughout Kaplansky’s sets, so that sometimes you could hear both clearly, and other times one overpowered the other.
Early in the concert, Kaplansky was apparently unhappy with the mix from the stage monitors, and she requested that the house sound be turned up. While this improved matters somewhat, this also made her vocals occasionally approach the pain threshold, especially after an obnoxious bit of feedback midway through the show caused eardrums to spasm for the rest of the night.
[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on March 12, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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