LUCY KAPLANSKY – Everyday Street (own label)

Everyday StreetAlthough she released Tomorrow You’re Going, a collaboration with Richard Shindell, in 2014, it’s been six years since Kaplansky’s last solo album. Primarily available direct from her website, Everyday Street is her eighth and, a reflection of her live shows, the most acoustically-based work she’s recorded, accompanied by just multi-instrumentalist Duke Levine on assorted guitars and mandolin with harmonies from Shindell and Shawn Colvin. Recorded over just four days, many in just one take, it mixes original material, co-written with her husband, Richard Litvin, alongside four covers that have been live staples over the years.

Charting themes of joy, friendship, family, loss and discovery, it opens with the simple fingerpicked ‘Old Friends’, an aptly titled duet with Colvin, that both recalls their times singing together in the early days of the Greenwich Village folk scene and marks the end to a chapter when, for whatever reasons, they had a falling out.

Thoughts turn to family on ‘Sixth Avenue’, an 11th birthday eve musing on how your children grow up before you realise it, from a “little face covered in ice cream” to letting her cross the street on her own to join her friends until “the crowd is all I see”.

Spending time with her daughter while she’s still young remains the focus for ‘Janie’s Waltz’, from whence comes the album’s title, celebrates the mundane pleasures of everyday life, the walk to the park and the wonders of a child discovering the world as, “amazed by a tiny blowing leaf/You have to chase it and pull away from me”. Likewise, the countrified strum of ‘Day Is Done’ finds her kissing her goodnight, wishing time would slow down, her daughter impatient for it to move on.

‘Keeping Time’, on which Shindell sings harmony, initially seems to tread a similar path, singing of morning walks after dropping her daughter at school, parents walking with their kids, but it narrows the focus to become a tribute to the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a neighbour, recollections of seeing him with his family “scruffy and smiling/After school in the yard”, and recalling the shock on hearing how “the movie star father”, the “neighborhood king” had been found dead from “chasing the dragon.” The song serves as both a poignant memory, but also a reminder of the fickle nature of life where “the cruelest undertow/Is stronger than all a man builds and loves/And dreams and knows”.

Further into the running order comes the mandolin-led strum of ‘Thirty Years Begin Now’, a Townes Van Zandt-like number celebrating her marriage to her husband, remembering their wedding day (“we stood beneath an antique quilt/Our multithreaded canopy/ee cummings words were read”) three decades earlier, reaffirming the promises made and the feelings in her heart.

Turning to the covers, the first is something of a surprise, being her reading of the Scottish traditional ‘Loch Lomond’, given an atmospheric electric guitar intro before unfolding as a weary, regret-stained lament for a relationship that has run its course, Kaplansky bringing a hint of a Highlands accent to her vocals. Second up, she nods to one of her influences with the Appalachian-hued, mandolin-strummed Nanci Griffith’s ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ evoking her formative years in the 80s Greenwich Village folk scene. She follows this by adding her name to the roll call of those who have covered Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, a piano-backed arrangement highly respectful of the original. The final choice is a terrific National steel-flecked reinterpretation of Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’ that swaps his blue collar teenage defiance and reckless romanticism for a far quieter approach without ever diluting the passion about breaking free.

The album ends on one final original, not a new number but rather a reimagining of ‘The Tide’, the title track of her 1994 debut, its lyrics capturing frustration (“now I see this anger/Is the horse I choose to ride/Now you say you want something nice from me/Well if you find it, take it, it’s on me/In the meantime don’t bother me/The tide has washed the nice from me”) and wildness (“I could drink you under the table/I could drink you out of town”) a contrast to the sense of contentment that infuses the new songs. She may still be the “sad-eyed little girl/On a tightrope … singing/As she passes through this world”, but these are now songs to make you feel grateful for the life you have lived and accepting of the experiences rather than treating it as a confrontation.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.lucykaplansky.com

‘Old Friends’ – live on the sofa with Shawn Colvin:

CHURCHFITTERS – Old Friends (own label CH110917)

Old FriendsHere is Churchfitters new double album, Old Friends. There is no UK release date, but it will be available from their website shortly. The album will, however, be released in France from March 1st (don’t underestimate the internationalism of Folking.com)

The album is a celebration of forty years of Churchfitters, founded in the UK in 1978 before the members moved to a Brittany base from 1993 (hence the album’s release in France). The current line-up consists of Rosie Short, her brother Chris and Boris Lebret who joined in 2004 and brought with him “an array of home made scrap metal instruments” as their website puts it. This trio is the core of the group; for percussion and on tours Margaux Scherer is a more recent addition. I last saw Churchfitters about three years ago in a village hall with an audience of primarily non-folkies/non-gig attending people from the village – they loved it, Lebret’s unusual instruments gave the band an immediate interaction with the audience.

The title, Old Friends, has a double meaning: that the songs are old friends and also that there are a number of old friends who are guests on the album (Frankie Banham, Pete Jack, Thomas Lotout, Dave Pegg, Eric Richard and Ronan Robert).

The 21 songs are a mix of those composed by the band and traditional songs. There is a bouncy version of ‘Johnny Was A Shoemaker’, a moving version of ‘The House Carpenter’, a haunting ‘Black is the Crow’, a driving ‘Open the Door’ and a rather splendid ‘The Parting Glass’ to finish the album. My favourite of the traditional songs, though, is a beautifully ethereal version of ‘She Moved Through the Fair’.

Of the tracks composed by the band, I particularly like the opening track ‘He Cut Her Throat’, written by Rosie Short, which has all that you need from a murder ballad: love, marriage, leaving, jealousy, throat slitting and a lively tune. Slower and more haunting is ‘Bleeding Heart Yard’ this time a contrast between the lily white purity of the heroine and the devil who is taking her heart. Of the others, perhaps the two most powerful tracks are ‘The Turning of the Tide’ and ‘Sing (For Our Time on Earth)’ – I instantly recognised them from the concert three years ago. These are two more of Short’s songs, the former jaunty and the latter a melodic piano piece.

If you want to get a feel for the band, the video below presents four songs performed at Cropredy by the Churchfitters four-piece where you can hear their style – and see some of the home made instruments. You’ll also see that it matters not whether it’s a village hall or 20,000 people standing in a field.

As for Old Friends the album, it gets better every time I play it – a double album of folk songs and instrumentals, both self-penned and from the tradition. For me it’s also been a great reminder of just how good Churchfitters are in concert. Dates (in both countries) are on their web pages.

Mike Wistow

Artists’ website: http://www.churchfitters.com/ehome.php

Churchfitters live at Cropredy: