Lucy Kaplansky, “Over The Hills”

[Red House Records]
 

June 2008

 

                  



As Spring takes wing here in the Northeast, with everything from yellow rumped warblers to moles claiming their territory, the music of Lucy Kaplansky sweetly presents itself to the eager listener in this new season. Kaplansky’s newest disc is a nugget to be treasured, composed of gorgeous melodies and striking lyrics. Her voice is at once buoyant and captivating, full of honey and substance one moment, then floating to effortless heights the next. On Over The Hills, Kaplansky nestles her gifted vocals within the creative confines of Larry Campbell and Duke Levine playing a concoction of electric, acoustic and pedal steel guitars (as well as fiddle and mandolin), with solid foundation provided by Stephen Crump on bass and Ben Wittman on percussion. Kaplansky is also joined on several numbers by the fine background vocals of Richard Shindell, Eliza Gilkyson, Buddy Miller and Jonatha Brooke. Each of these singers contribute their own distinctive vocal color to Kaplansky’s sparkling voice, melding beautifully with Kaplansky’s lyrics in their own place and time.

The lyric place that Kaplansky invites us into in Over The Hills is a green glade filled with life’s gentle memories, the passage of time and fleeting love and lessons learned along the way. This is an intimate autobiographical journey, with Kaplansky sharing her own family memories and blessings. Her journey starts with a lilting ode to a young child’s observations in “Manhattan Moon,” in which innocent truths are silhouetted against a lovely light melody, showcasing Levine’s gentle mandolin caresses. Kaplansky then delivers a beautiful version of the fragile Bryan Ferry tune, “More Than This,” which will have you luxuriating in the crystal clear waters of Kaplansky’s vocals spilling over Brooke’s delicate background vocals. There is magic here between these two vocalists, burnished by Campbell’s pedal steel guitar colors. This gem will test your system’s ability to catch the highest reaches of Kaplansky’s breathy climbs and convey all of the natural image dimensionality and ambient clues that this fine recording provides. “Amelia” is a slow burning tale involving one woman’s memories of violence and bitterness in her marriage, combined with the hope of a new generation of women unfolding. Listen to Wittman’s deep bass drum as it resonates and simmers in the background of “Amelia” and then how it propels the pulsating June Carter classic, “Ring of Fire” with Campbell and Levine each letting loose on swirling guitar solos. Kaplansky joins the fray with a smoky, Southern warmth to her lower registers, perfectly snaring the heady emotional impact of this burner. From this heat we head to the swimming hole, taking in the carefree string swing of Loudon Wainwright III’s “Swimming Song,” highlighted by Campbell’s rising fiddle, Charlie Giordano’s accordion and Levine’s staccato guitar picking, all backing Kaplansky’s crisp vocals and lightly drawn memories of Summer.

Summer turns to Autumn on two poignant ballads, “Today’s The Day” and the title track, “Over The Hills”, both quietly offering a glimpse into the life and passing of a loving parent. (Kaplansky has dedicated this recording to her father, Irving Kaplansky). Both of these songs are simple poetic statements, wound around Kaplansky’s lone voice and guitar, nestled in the comfort of gorgeous backing vocals and everyday memories. The recording ends with two sweet, poignant songs. First, there is the flowing “Someday Soon” that showcases Kaplansky’s talented band and her smooth, honeyed vocals floating effortlessly above fragile mandolin and guitar lines. This is followed by the luminescence of “The Gift,” a final statement about the passing of generations and the precious bounty left behind on life’s winding path to be picked up by the next Spring traveler. With this beautiful, inspired recording, Kaplansky has left us just such precious gifts to ponder.


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