Life and City Sidewalks: Lucy Kaplansky looks around and inside on latest LP

On her spare, luminous new record Everyday Street, Lucy Kaplansky wrote a memoir in music, touching on friendship, marriage and motherhood — even dog walking. The fullness and frailty of life pour out from its songs, seven originals and four well-chosen covers. Moreover, it’s emphatically an album. Kaplansky is self-releasing her first new collection in six years while keeping it away from streaming sites.

There’s a lovely reimagining of the lead song from Kaplansky’s solo debut, The Tide, and a version of Nanci Griffith’s “I Wish It Would Rain” that stirs up memories of the 1980s folk scene she came up in. She does a letter-perfect version of “Hallelujah” and takes Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” to a quieter place.

But it’s the new songs that are most stirring. “Old Friends” tells the beautiful story of her enduring connection with Shawn Colvin. The two played as a duo in Greenwich Village before Kaplansky left music for several years; she returned in 1994. Colvin, by then an established star, produced her first album. Sometime after, the friends had a falling out — “who was right and who was wrong, neither one of us can say,” she sings.

Twenty years later, prodded by Kaplansky’s husband and co-writer, they reconnected at a festival.

“We were so happy and thrilled to see each other,” Kaplansky said by phone from her home in New York City. “Whatever had happened in the past was just gone in terms of whatever hadn’t been right between us, [and] we’ve been really close since then.”

Using harmony as a metaphor — “weaving a shared tapestry, that’s what you and I do” — she wrote their history, and one day when Colvin came by to rehearse for a guest appearance at a hometown show, she shared it with her.

“We both just cried and she said it was the nicest gift anyone had ever given her,” Kaplansky said.

When work began on the new record, Kaplansky asked her to sing on it; Colvin happily agreed.

“I sent her a couple of different things, but she said, ‘I want to sing on our song’ — that’s what she called it.”

The finished version is lovely beyond words and music, a glimpse into something special.

“It means so much to me to have her on that song,” she said. “I get chills when I listen to it; what an incredible gift. I mean, she said I gave her a gift, well, she give me a gift.”

The other songs on Everyday Street are just as good. “Sixth Avenue” confronts the melancholy of watching children grow; husband Richard Litvin’s and her adopted daughter Molly is a teenager, now begging to be left alone to cross a busy street with her friends to get pizza. “One day you’ll be on your own,” Kaplansky sings wistfully, “you’re gonna let us go.”

Cry Cry Cry partner Richard Shindell sings harmony on “Keeping Time,” originally about alcoholism. Kaplansky rewrote it after actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose. Kaplansky often saw Hoffman and his family on morning walks; she calls him “the king of our neighborhood” in one line.

Kaplansky felt the song’s first draft wasn’t personal enough.

“Because I’m not in recovery,” she said. “Then it hit me one day; make it a story about something I know about. Here in this world, with this very famous man, feeling the devastation of the neighborhood when he passed away.”

Litvin, who met Kaplansky in her Village days as a doting fan and became a collaborator, added a couple of key changes to a crucial verse; “for the kill that lies in wait like the cruelest undertow / is stronger than all a man builds and loves and dreams and knows.” Originally, “kill” was “needle” and “cruel” became “cruelest.”

“I want to give credit because all of these songs, to one extent or another, are written with my husband,” Kaplansky said.

Their union is honored on the lovely “30 Years Begin Now,” which remembers their wedding day and restates their vows, as she sings, ”oh this is living ground, and only this moment matters now.”

Kaplansky will release the new album on Sept. 28, the same day she performs at Portsmouth’s Music Hall Loft.

She knows her plan to sell the new record directly is risky, but she has good reasons to experiment. What once was a primarily income source has all but vanished. A few years back, her cover of Roxy Music’s “More Than This” received 11.5 million Spotify streams; she got a laughable paycheck.

“If that’s as good as it gets, then I’m going somewhere else,” she said. “I think my fans are happy to do it; we’ll see what happens. Talk to me in a few months.”

Lucy Kaplansky
When: Friday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m.
Where: Music Hall Loft, 131 Congress St., Portsmouth
Tickets: $30 at themusichall.org

— Michael Witthaus

Featured photo is a courtesy photo. 

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