Lucy Kaplansky has been performing for over thirty years, but
this was the first time I’d been able to see her. She is a petite woman with thick, wavy,
dark hair, looking much younger than her fifty-something age. She played two sets without an opening act. The venue was nearly
full and seemed to be mostly fans. Before the show I saw an acquaintance in the
lobby who told me how much she and her husband loved Lucy – this Lucy – so I
I realized that her songs are not “one time listens”. They
are poetry, and they contain messages within messages, like Matryoshka Russian
Dolls. There’s a meaning within a meaning within a meaning within a meaning. I
listened eagerly, but found I had to go home and listen again. I even looked up
lyrics on the Internet. For example,
there was a song about 9-11, called “Land of the Living”.
She introduced it as such but I didn’t really hear it until I listened again at
The lyrics were quite disarming, especially this part about a
Middle Eastern taxi driver:
Then I got in a taxi, said “Hudson Street please”
He started the meter and he looked at me
I glanced at his name on the back of his seat
And I looked out the window at the ghost filled streets
I noticed cuts on his hand and his face
And I said “You’re bleeding, are you okay?”
He said “I’m not so good, got beat up today
And I’m not one of them no matter what they say
I’m just worried about my family
My wife’s in the house and she’s scared to leave”
And I didn’t know what to say
I didn’t know what to say
But I said a prayer for him anyway
Lucy Kaplansky expresses a lot of compassion in her songs. She's big on family - it was evident that her daughter, Molly, is the apple
of her eye. She’s been with her husband, Rick Litvin, for over twenty years.
One of her songs was about the night they met – a passionate
encounter turned into a committed marriage.
She bantered with the audience, telling funny stories. People called out favorite songs for her to play.
She was honest and said things like, “That one is too agonizing right now,” and “I don’t know if I can play that one until I get warmed up.” At one point she said with a laugh, “There’s only so many gut wrenching
songs you can do in one show.” I guess
that’s why they love her.
I greatly enjoyed a song she performed that was written by her father,
Irving Kaplansky, about the math term, ‘Pi’. She sang it a cappella, which made
me think of Joni Mitchell’s rendition of the old Annie Ross tune, “Twisted”. She told endearing
anecdotes about her Polish family, their family reunions, and the Health Bread
Bakery they own in Toronto. The cover art of her CD, Reunion, features a painting of the bakery by Avrom
Yanovsky, who was at one time an employee of the bakery, and later became a famous
newspaper cartoonist in Canada. He was also the father of Lovin’ Spoonful
member, Zal Yanovsky.
All in all, I found her lyrics to be more compelling than her
melodies, although I thought she was a consummate professional. Over the years she has shared the stage with Shawn Colvin, Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, John Gorka, Eliza Gilkyson and others. She even spent a few years working as a psychotherapist!
She played guitar and piano that night, and her voice has an earthy, versatile quality. She’s an
artist who is down to earth and at ease on stage, and makes what she does look easy. She’s
accessible, and I think her fans feel represented by her. She tells their
stories in her songs because they are her stories too. There was a lot of love
present as well – for life, for her family, for the world, for fans, and
for music itself. I’m really glad I was able to be there.
Visit her website at lucykaplansky.com.
Press Photo from lucykaplansky.com
For music lovers visiting Portland, Maine, I highly recommend
One Longfellow Square ~ "Portland's Premier Arts Venue"
Check them out at onelongfellowsquare.com.