This week I’m going to shine a string of twinkling lights on the Lucy Kaplansky show at One Longfellow Square, happening on Friday night, because her new album “Everyday Street” is fantastic, and local artist Sara Cox is opening, and I’m super excited to talk about it all. But before I dive into that I’m gonna toss a few other chestnuts at you because this is an especially stellar week on the live music front.
Jason Cornell, better known as Brzowski, has been ensconced in Portland’s rap scene as a performer, booker and promoter since 2001. He also is a founding member of the Portland-based hip-hop and electronic label Milled Pavement Records. Here’s a chance to give him a proper send-off as he gets ready to pull up stakes and head to his new home of Dallas, Texas. A Thursday night Brzowski farewell show is happening at Portland House of Music, and Cornell will be joined by his post-rap/progressive metal project Vinyl Cape, along with Anthony Maintain and Shameek the God. Happy trails, Brzowski!
When it comes to holiday magic in musical form, I can think of no finer example than the Saturday night Fogcutters Super Fantastic Christmas Extravaganza happening at the State Theatre. This is its third year, and the previous two were both musically rich and bursting with nostalgic Christmas shenanigans, stylized after TV holiday variety shows of the ’60s and ’70s. The extravaganza has the stage turned into a living room festooned with decorations and presents galore, and the 19-piece big band invites a revolving door of local singers to join in the fun and sing holiday songs with them.
They’re always tight-lipped about revealing who will dropping by, but I did spy with my little eye on social media that Sara Hallie Richardson, back from her couple-year stint in Los Angeles, will be gracing the stage. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that Gina Alibrio, Zach Jones and anyone with the last name of Divinsky, among many others, will appear. But I don’t want to jinx anything, so I’ll leave it at that. See you there!
Folk singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky knocked my socks off and clear across the room with the opening track on “Everyday Street.” Not only does it include harmonies from Shawn Colvin, but Kaplansky also name-drops Richard and Linda Thompson, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
“Old Friends” is a look back at Kaplansky’s friendship with Colvin that dates back to the ’80s Greenwich Village folk scene. “So here we are in your hotel room, singing Gram and Emmylou/20 years, 20,000 roads have brought me back to you.” If there was an award category for best opening track of a record, “Old Friends” would be a serious contender. Kaplansky told me that Colvin wept halfway through the song when Kaplanksy first played it for her, which led to her own tears and Colvin telling her it was the best gift anyone had ever given her. “She asked to sing the harmony on it when I told her I was going to record it.”
Here’s Lucy Kaplansky and Shawn Colvin singing “Old Friends” :
“Everyday Street” was released in September. It’s Kaplansky’s first solo album in six years and the latest in a discography that dates back to her 1994 debut, “The Tide.” “Everyday Street” was produced by Kaplansky, and she released it on her own and is handling all of the promotion personally, which is why, to my absolute delight, she reached out to me directly about her upcoming Portland show.
The album is available exclusively through her website (lucykaplansky.com) and at her shows. Kaplansky opted to swim against the tide and not have it be on any streaming services. “Streaming services have decimated CD sales over the last several years. People simply don’t buy CDs anymore. For people like me, as well as independent record labels, that has been financially disastrous. And the streaming services pay artists pitifully small amounts,” she explained.
Kaplansky cited the example of her cover of the Roxy Music song “More Than This,” which wound up on the “Your Favorite Coffeehouse” Spotify playlist and racked up more than 11 million streams. “I can tell you that I made very little money, considering the number of streams. So I figured if that’s as good as it gets, I need to try something else.”
So far so good, said Kaplansky, who has marketed the album via social media and her mailing list. “I’ve been delighted by how many I’ve sold, and of course I’m the one making the money; there’s no middleman at all. My fans seem quite happy to pay the money and support my career.” Kaplansky hasn’t closed the door on putting the album in retail stores or online at places like iTunes or Amazon, but for now she’s leaving well enough alone.
“Everyday Street” is home to seven well-penned originals and four covers, including Kaplansky’s gorgeous take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Come to find out that Kaplansky’s relationship with the Cohen song is relatively recent. “I’m embarrassed to say I first heard ‘Hallelujah’ in the movie ‘Shrek,’ and fell in love with it,” she said, adding that, soon after, she tried it at a show, and it stuck.
Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” is another that Kaplansky put on “Everyday Street.” About four years ago, she saw Springsteen perform for the first time and, a week later, told that to a New Jersey audience, which in turn requested she play something from The Boss. “I had always wanted to try that song, so I took a stab with it with that NJ audience helping me with the words.” And like “Hallelujah,” it, too, stuck.
Kaplansky has sung with Nanci Griffith many times over the years and has always loved her song “I Wish It Would Rain.” She started to play it on the mandolin a few years back, and it also wound up on “Everyday Street.” The other cover is of the traditional Scottish folk tune “Loch Lomond.” Kaplansky said she’s been performing all of these songs for a while, and when she was getting ready to record “Everyday Street,” she asked fans on social media which covers they had heard her play live and would like her to record. “All of these were requested by fans.”
Along with “Old Friends” another favorite original on “Everyday Street” is “Keeping Time,” which features harmony vocals from Richard Shindell. Kaplansky said the song is from her vantage point as a mother sharing her Manhattan neighborhood, from a distance, with the late actor and father of three, Philip Seymour Hoffman. “In the bright morning sun or late afternoon glow, we kept time with the rhythms, mothers and fathers know/A February morning the news was on, I froze when I heard your name, our neighborhood king was gone.” The song is melancholy yet graceful, and Kaplansky’s voice and words pay a fitting tribute to Hoffman.
The other facet of “Everyday Street” that must be acknowledged is the musicianship, and at the center of this is Massachusetts-based guitar/multi-instrumentalist Duke Levine. Levine tours, as a band member, with the likes of Peter Wolf, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash, Aimee Mann and J. Geils Band, along with many others, and has also released five of his own albums. He’s an in-demand sessions player because of his mastery of several kind of guitars, and Kaplansky wholeheartedly agreed with my use of the word “deity” to describe him. “Duke is one of the great guitar players, in my opinion. He plays beautifully and lyrically and can also completely blow the roof off, and he always listens to me,” she said, adding that he’s the nicest and funniest guy and also incredibly humble. Levine and Kaplansky co-arranged the songs on “Everyday Street,” and on it, he plays acoustic and electric guitar, electric baritone guitar, National guitar, mandola and octave mandolin.
Kaplansky’s show at One Longfellow Square will be a solo performance, and her opening act is on my short list of favorite local singer-songwriters. Sara Cox has been on my radar since the early 2000s, and the title track of her 2003 “Arrive” album is one of my all-time favorite songs by anyone, local or otherwise. Then, in 2007, she released “Crowded is the New Lonely,” and that entire album is extraordinary. With an alt.country and Americana backbone and a voice that’s honey-dipped twang, the album shines with exceptional lyricism. It doesn’t get much better than the track “At Home With Home.” “So write your number on my hand and drink that PBR straight from the can/Follow me home from the bar, I know we can remember who we are.”
Cox went back to school a few years back and is a nurse at Maine Med, but told me that she always carves out a little time for music and will have some new songs to share.
8 p.m. Friday. One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland, $20 in advance, $25 day of show. onelongfellowsquare.com