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:

Mark Waistell – Latecomer

Mark Waistell used to play and sing 30 years ago before (like the rest of us) stepping on to, the “proper job” hamster wheel and fading into whiskered obscurity.

Well, 2 years ago, Mark decided to jump off the proverbial wagon wheel, pick up the guitar again and write some new songs.

An introduction led him to Mark Tucker (Show of Hands, Fairport Convention, Ralph McTell, Richard Shindell ) who offered to produce his new body of work.

So, last November, aged 57, he entered the studio, recorded guitar and vocals parts and amassed an amazing cast of musicians from the free wheeleing side of town, namely: Phil Beer (Show of Hands) , Gerry Conway (Fairport, Pentangle), Spencer Cozens (John Martyn, Joan Armatrading) , Barney Morse-Browne (Chris Wood, Duotone, Imagined Village) and Jane Griffiths.

The result is the album “Latecomer”.

Waistell vocals and song-writing sit in the Iain Matthews range of delivery and his song-writing reminds me very much of that woodstock spirit. Tracks are clean cut, with catchy hooks and nice tight simple arrangements. It’s a great folking listen and we recommend that you give it a try. Check out the track previews on the amazon link below. Darren Beech

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Artist’s website: www.markwaistell.com

SHOW OF HANDS with MIRANDA SYKES – Covers 2 (Hands On HMCD32)

Ah, a three-piece suite always looks and feels better with a new set of covers and a new set of covers is exactly what you get here. Any musician will (usually) tell you that as part of the requisite for any performer it is the enjoyment you feel at having been afforded the opportunity to re-interpret someone else’s songs and make them feel as integral a part of a set as if you’d written them yourself. With this in mind our intrepid heroes Steve Knightley & Phil Beer and long time associate Miranda Sykes muster thirteen tracks of the highest calibre. Talking of Ms Sykes, it’s her brooding bowed double bass that resonates chillingly beneath Steve’s anguished vocals on the opening track Richard Shindell’s You Stay Here” that will steer the listener to check out the writer himself…so I did and now I’m a convert. Speaking as someone who has to sing songs like ‘The Wild Rover’ and ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ (I suppose you’d call them ‘covers’) in pubs in order to eke out a living it makes listening to Show Of Hands all the more enjoyable particularly when the songs are given a new ‘acoustic’ lease of life. From Springsteen and Knopfler to an invigorating version of Peter Gabriel’sSecret World” who wouldn’t feel honoured to be counted amongst such august company? If this is your first dip into the world of acoustic music (I’m not even going to try using the word ‘folk’ anymore) then you’ve come to the right place.

PETE FYFE

Artist website: http://www.showofhands.co.uk/