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Lucy Kaplansky - The Red Thread

The Red Thread

Lucy Kaplansky

RHR CD 166

Red House Records
501 W. Lynnhurst Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55104

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Michael Devlin

One is struck from the first song that this is a mature and personal work. Kaplansky's skill as a singer and songwriter makes the dramatic changes in her own life moments to savor and consider for the listener as well. Although she shares songwriting credits with her husband Richard Litvin and benefits from the mood perfect production of Ben Wittman, this album is as Lucy as it gets.

Those who have enjoyed Kaplansky's music over the years will recognize the people in her band-John Herrington and Duke Levine on guitar, Zev Katz on bass and Wittman on drums. His production skirts the borders of rock, quiet pop, acoustic and country. Backing vocalists include frequent collaborators Richard Shindell and John Gorka, as well as Jonatha Brooke and Eliza Gilkyson. Combine this with Lucy's "singer's singer" vocals and you have a sound that is the finest the genre has to offer. It seems odd to say this of such an accomplished musician as Kaplansky, but everything from the songwriting to the singing seems to be more confident than ever before.

The album's title refers to an ancient Chinese belief that when a child is born, he or she is connected to all the people who will be important to him or her in life, by an unbreakable red thread. This image is particularly relevant to Lucy and Richard because they have recently adopted a baby girl from China. The first two songs establish the album's twin themes of personal homecoming and coming to terms with conflicts on a community level. I Had Something speaks of finding home spiritually through a connection to the as yet unborn child they will adopt. Line In The Sand spins the globe to the Middle East to identify amid the endless cycles of war, the basic unit of worth. "You can't erase the story of a family's home/ A hate-filled heart still beats alone."

New York is more a character in many of the songs than a backdrop. This is particularly apropos in the context of this album because the city has become Kaplansky's home and because so many Red Threads run through this melting pot from around the world. Litvin and Kaplansky's New York songs are specifically post 9/11 and capture street-level expressions of strength and grief. Land of the Living finds Lucy returning to the city immediately after the attacks, acknowledging the Statue of Liberty as the true symbol of its people. She notices that her cab driver is cut from having been beaten because he is Middle Eastern. Like so many New Yorkers, the driver worries about the safety of his family. Brooklyn Train finds unexpected moments of connection and healing on a crowded subway ride.

The late Dave Carter's Cowboy Singer is done here with a nicely understated twang. Kaplansky also covers songs by Buddy Miller, Bill Morrissey and James McMurtry, but the songs that stay with you are the ones co-written with her husband. Lucy Kaplansky is home. You can hear it in her voice and surmise it from the changes in her life and her adopted city, which is made more precious by its newfound vulnerability. An album such as this is sure to touch you wherever you live. I wonder what the Chinese have to say about the threads that pass through the soul of a singer-songwriter.

Edited by:David N. Pyles

[Editor's Note: Please also see Michael Devlin's interview with Lucy.]

Copyright 2004, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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