Here we are with another FORGOTTEN ARTIST article, and frequent contributor Tim Martin is back to remind us about the career of a singer-songwriter who’s also a fine interpreter of other artists songs. Lucy Kaplansky describes herself as “a folk artist from New York”. She has collaborated with Shawn Colvin and her label mates at Red House Records John Gorka and Eliza Gilkyson, and worked with Nanci Griffith and Dar Williams. She has often mixed her own songs with well-chosen, sometimes unusual covers.
Her first album from 1994, ‘The Tide’ which covers Richard Thompson’s ‘When I Get to the Border’, along with songs from Sting and the Beatles, shows off her early influences such as Thompson and British folk in general and her peers on the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 80s. Second album ‘Flesh and Bone’ features a great, almost Western Swing style cover of Brinsley Schwarz’ ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding’, and a fairly straightforward version of ‘Return of the Grievous Angel’, highlighting the quality of her voice, which easily stands up to potential Emmylou Harris comparisons.
Following a chart single with ‘Every Single Day’ she produced her most country-oriented album so far ‘The Red Thread’ in 2004, featuring her response to 9/11 ‘Land of the Living’. By now most of her lyrics were written with husband Richard Litvin and had become increasingly centred on her family. Throughout her career, Kaplansky has steered clear of folk music cliches, while never leaving her roots behind. Her use on early albums of Steely Dan guitarists Drew Zingg and Jon Herington brought occasional Jazz and Blues touches to her music. Session musician Duke Levine has been a frequent collaborator and producer.
Her most recent album ‘Everyday Street’ was self-released in 2018, and features more covers than recently, Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’, ‘Hallelujah’ and Nanci Griffith’s ‘I Wish It Would Rain’. Her version of traditional Scottish song ‘Loch Lomond’ is strikingly different to what you might expect, with electric guitar carrying most of the tune, but why do Americans have to try and sing in a Scottish accent? The highlight of this album is her tribute to her long friendship with Shawn Colvin ‘Old Friends‘.
Why has she never achieved the recognition of her friends Colvin, Griffiths, or Suzanne Vega? Stepping away from music to pursue a doctorate in Psychology, as her contemporaries were being signed in the 80s, only returning at the urging of Colvin, her work with folk supergroups Red Horse (with Eliza Gilkyson and John Gorka), and Cry Cry Cry (with Dar Williams and Richard Shindell) may have blunted the recognition factor. The quality of her singing and writing however means she should be bracketed with the other singer-songwriters she started out with in New York. If she has managed her career and her life on her own terms rather than to the whims of the record industry, then more power to her for producing such a consistently fine body of work. The albums suggested below are the starting points. Once you have listened to those you will want to hear the rest.
‘The Tide’ (1994)
‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ (1998)
‘The Red Thread’ (2004)
‘Everyday Street’ (2018)