Doing it her way: singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky releases new, stripped-down album

  • Singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky, who first made her name playing alongside Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega and other New York performers, comes to The Parlor Room in Northampton this Saturday.  Photo by Beowulf Sheehan/courtesy Lucy Kaplansky

  • Singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky, who gave up music to become a psychologist only to return to music later, has released her first album in six years. Photo by C. Taylor Crothers/courtesy Lucy Kaplansky

  • Kaplansky’s new album, “Everyday Street,” is a mostly acoustic duet with her bandmate Duke Levine that captures her live sound. Image courtesy Lucy Kaplansky

  • Singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky performs on guitar, mandolin and piano. Image courtesy Lucy Kaplansky

Staff Writer
Published: 11/28/2018 3:56:48 PM

Singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky has released nine solo albums since her first record of the early 1990s. But on her first album in six years, “Everyday Street,” Kaplansky decided to do something different: to replicate the sound of her live acoustic performances alongside longtime collaborator Duke Levine, who blends acoustic and electric guitars and mandola with Kaplansky’s singing and her work on acoustic guitar, mandolin and piano.

Kaplansky, part of the folk “supergroup” Cry Cry Cry with her friends and fellow songwriters Dar Williams and Richard Shindell — the group first formed in the late 1990s — will debut her new album this Saturday at The Parlor Room in Northampton. She’ll draw her set from her new songs as well as classic originals and her signature cover songs, such as Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” a fan favorite.

Ahead of her performance, Kaplansky, who lives in New York City and once worked as a clinical psychologist, spoke with the Gazette about her songwriting process, her new album, and why she decided to ditch streaming services and Amazon to sell the new record.

Daily Hampshire Gazette: I understand your new record is more acoustic-driven and emulates the feel of being at one of your shows.

Lucy Kaplansky: It’s a lot like if Duke and I were doing a show together, which we’ve done many times. The only other instruments are guest vocals by Shawn Colvin and Richard Shindell. Otherwise, it’s just me and Duke. And I’ve never made an album like that.

DHG: Are these songs on your new record very personal to you? Where did they come from?

LK: All the songs are co-written by my husband, Richard Litvin. All the songs I’ve ever written are pretty personal. It’s just the way I ended up being able to write. They’re all something that relates to something I actually experienced one way or another.

One is about Philip Seymour Hoffman, but more about my experience with sharing the neighborhood with him and my observations. It’s not so much about him, but my experience with me being a neighborhood mom with him a neighborhood dad.

DHG: So, you were an actual neighbor to the late actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman?

LK: He lived about a mile from me, but his kids and my kid went to the same school. Every day, we would take our kids to school and drop them off. I’d see him every day pretty much unless he was shooting a movie.

DHG: That’s pretty unique. I imagine that you’re probably one of the few people in the world to write a song about Philip Seymour Hoffman from a very personal place.

LK: I didn’t plan it that way or anything. It was just something I was extremely moved by. You’re probably right. I don’t think anyone has ever done that. I hadn’t thought about that.

DHG: What’s your songwriting process like?

LK: The only way I could accurately describe what I do is that I don’t plan what I’m going to write about. Generally speaking, I’ll be sitting with my guitar or my mandolin and something occurs to me. It’s very unconsciously driven. Usually it’s something that I’m moved by.

That song about Philip Seymour Hoffman started out as a completely different song. And I finished it and even played it out a couple of time and thought, ‘This isn’t working for me. I’m not moved by this song.’ I completely rewrote it.

DHG: There are some cover songs featured on your new record such as Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.” Why did you pick these songs, and what do they mean to you?

LK: They are all songs that I’ve done live for a long time. Every one of them. They each ended up in my show for different reasons and stuck. Why I recorded those in particular? One of the things that I did for this album was I asked my fans what cover songs have you heard me do live that you’d like me to record? And the number one by far was “Thunder Road.” I don’t know if I would have recorded these songs otherwise. I thought, ‘Why not?”

DHG: Do you try to make these songs your own?

LK: Always. Otherwise it’s not interesting to me. A, it’s not interesting to me and B, it’s not going to be interesting to anyone else. If I’m just doing it the way it’s always been done, who cares? You might as well listen to the original.

I’ve tended to record men’s songs partly for that reason. I’ve gravitated that way because it’s automatically going to be a different thing. It’s not necessarily a conscious thing — it’s more, ‘I’m going to try this and see what happens.’

DHG: As a musician, what do you like about performing in Northampton?

LK: I think the audiences are really warm. They’re educated, which is not always the case, I guess. They’re smart people and they’re really warm to the performer, which is not always the case, either.

DHG: What’s changed for you as a performer in the six years since releasing your previous album?

LK: Streaming services have decimated CD sales just in the last six or seven years. You can make a CD and no one will buy it. They’ll go to Spotify to listen to it. And I decided to try something different. In addition to just selling it myself and not going through a record label, it didn’t go to streaming services. If someone wants to hear it, they have to buy it.

And I think it’s going really well. I’ve sold quite a lot of them through my website and at shows. It’s a completely different model and so far it seems to be working pretty well. It’s incredibly empowering.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

Lucy Kaplansky plays The Parlor Room in Northampton Saturday at 7 p.m. For more information and for tickets, visit signa turesoundspresents.com.




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