You almost never got to hear of Lucy Kaplansky: An 18 year old member of the early 80s new folk movement, she made it as far as plans for a recording venture with Shawn Colvin, only to change her mind at the last moment. For the next decade, Kaplansky continued to do light session work, most notably as a backup singer on early Suzanne Vega albums, but spent most of her time plying her newly minted PhD in Psychology as a therapist in New York. It was a hard loss for the folk community: her voice had been a sweet standout in the crowd even then, as evidenced by Fast Folk recordings from the era.
Thankfully, in the mid 90s Lucy came back to the folk fold. Since then, though she still supposedly sees patients, she's produced six absolutely incredible albums, chock-full of masterful songwriting. It's tempting to see her therapist's eye in her lyrical tendency towards storysongs of family, the lifestruggle of generational difference and the passage of time, the closing of distances metaphoric and real. But regardless of the source, there's nothing like her ability to find the right pace for a song, the right tone for a line, the right note of etherial melody for a story.
Kaplansky remains in high demand as a backup vocalist for fellow folkies on the road or in the studios; her pure voice and New York accent can be heard on almost every Colvin, Shindell, Nancy Griffith, and John Gorka album. Her ear is incredible -- I've seen her on stage with a good half dozen performers, and she seems to be arranging her harmonies on the spot, making good songs great with a subtle yet powerful touch.
But though in concert she tends to focus on her own stunning songwriting, Dr. Kaplansky's cheerful delight at singing and arranging the tunes of others translates to her own recordings, too: her albums tend to come in at about one-third covers, and her taste is impeccable. Over the last thirteen years, she has come to be known as much for her sterling interpretations of the songs of others as she is for her own material.
In fact, Lucy Kaplansky is such a prolific and powerful cover artist, I had real trouble narrowing down the choices, so today we're offering one cover from each of her six major albums, presented in chronological order:
Lucy Kaplansky covers...
- Secret Journey (orig. The Police)
- (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding (orig. Nick Lowe)
- Somewhere Out There (orig. Steve Earle)
- The Angels Rejoiced Last Night (orig. Louvin Brothers)
- Hole In My Head (orig. Buddy Miller)
- More Than This (orig. Roxy Music)
You can hear more Lucy tracks at her website, but every single Lucy Kaplansky album from 1994 release The Tide to this year's Over The Hills belongs in your collection, and you can buy them all direct from her label Red House Records. So do it. Period.
Today's bonus coversongs: