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:

SHAWN COLVIN – Uncovered (Fantasy 0888072374157)

SHAWN COLVIN UncoveredAt some point in time, many an artist has released a collection of covers, usually songs celebrating their influences and inspirations, often, also conjuring a simple campfire or living room singalong with friends. This is Colvin’s second, following on from 1994’s Cover Girl, and, again a tip of the hat to the days playing the clubs and bars singing others’ songs before she found success with her own material, although, there’s nothing here that would have been in her repertoire of the time.

Co-produced by Eagles guitarist Steuart Smith, who did the previous album, and Stewart Lerman, it’s a simple acoustic affair with a couple of special guests joining her on vocals for two numbers. First up is one of my all-time favourite Springsteen songs, ‘Tougher Than The Rest’, Colvin retaining the gender of the narrator, but exposing even more the vulnerability behind the macho pose of the lyrics. Indeed. The early running plays the familiarity card, following on with a beautifully world-weary, almost confessional tone reading of Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’ before being joined by a muted David Crosby on the chorus for Gerry Rafferty’s signature tune, ‘Baker Street’. Now, this may be sacrilege in some quarters, but I was never a big fan of the original; however, here, stripped down to the bone with Glenn Fukunaga’s upright bass and guitar tapped hand percussion, and devoid of the sax flourish (replaced by lap steel), it takes on a late night bluesy resignation that flags up the sense of dislocation and alienation.

The second guest appearance comes from Marc Cohn who joins her to provide harmonies on a smoulderingly intimate, country soul arrangement of Brenton Wood’s ‘Gimme Little Sign’, again underpinned by laid back hand percussion.

The other choices are probably not so well known to the mainstream even if the writers are. Graham Nash provides another CS&N connection with a pedal steel streaked, resonant acoustic guitar arrangement ofI Used To Be A King’ which follows directly on from a gorgeous , emotionally wrought version of the Brennan/Waits love ballad ‘Hold On’, the chorus having an almost hymnal quality, Colvin delivering some of the lines in an almost chokingly spoken tone.

Crowded House’s Neil Finn a rhythmically choppy provides ‘Private Universe’ before a surprising interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away’ off Fulfillingness’ First Finale, transforming it from a gospel soul groove into a slow, late night acoustic blues that reminds me greatly of Clive Gregson’s ‘Touch And Go’.

Again, while critically acclaimed, written by Robbie Robertson and originally on Northern Lights – Southern Cross, ‘Arcadian Driftwood’, a song about the expulsion of the Arcadians during the war between the French and the English over present day Nova Scotia is probably one of the lesser known Band numbers, and Colvin’s six and a half minute version brings the haunting lyrics about dispossession into full relief.

Originally the B side of Creedence Clearwater revival classic ‘Bad Moon Rising’, John Fogarty’s ‘Lodi’ has seen many a cover, from Emmylou to Tom Jones, and, featuring both jangling acoustic and plangent electric guitars, it’s the most full bodied , country-rock track here and another strong notch to the song’s CV.

Texan-born Robert Earl Keen is something of a cult figure in folk-country circles, but, regarded as one of the great contemporary dust bowl songs, ‘Not A Drop Of Rain’, the collection’s penultimate track, is certainly one of his best known numbers and Colvin picks out a fine version here. The album closes on a classic country ballad note, looking back to 1973 and the dreamy-sounding ‘Til I Get It Right’, a country chart topper for Tammy Wynette that hews close to the original, but with pedal steel rather than strings and a slightly more torch quality.

As this month’s Ryan Adams release of his rework of Taylor Swift’s 1989 amply illustrates, cover version albums have a mixed history, but Colvin’s most definitely weights the balance in their favour.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: http://www.shawncolvin.com/

Here’s Shawn’s trailer video for Uncovered: