The doctor is in
Is Lucy Kaplansky a folk singer, or a doctor masquerading as one?
Let’s face it. Folk musicians have never been given their proper time in the sun. The general consensus, at least among a few modern-day pedants, is that such “folkies” as John Gorka, Bill Morrissey, Dar Williams and others don’t have the talent of those who came before them—Bob Dylan, Donovan Leitch, Paul Simon, to name a few.
What great artists like Lucy Kaplansky and her ilk deserve is just beyond the door. One listen to Kaplansky’s latest collection of songs, which she co-wrote with her husband Rick Litvin, should dissuade such misguided conventions.
Kaplansky moved from Chicago to New York just after finishing high school. She found refuge in lower Manhattan’s renowned singer-songwriter scene and immediately immersed herself in her music. She began her career by navigating the club circuit, performing alongside such folk luminaries as Cliff Eberhardt, Suzanne Vega and her longtime friend Shawn Colvin.
Just as she was beginning to receive critical notice, Kaplansky decided to pursue a doctorate in psychology instead, thus putting her nascent music career on the back burner. And, upon earning a degree, she set up a practice as a clinical psychologist, and also worked with mentally ill patients in a New York hospital.
However, at Colvin’s urging, Kaplansky recorded her first album for Red House, a label held in high regard by fans of singer-songwriters from the folk-music tradition. The Tide was released in 1994 to rave reviews. Then, Kaplansky hit the road and got back to her true love—music.
“I think the main way my training correlates,” says Kaplansky via e-mail about her background in psychology, “is that it has made me a much more perceptive, observant person in general, and much more savvy about people’s motivations.”
From the U.K. and Ireland to folk festivals across America, Kaplansky has delivered the goods. A self-professed lover of Steve Earle—“I think he’s a genius,” she says—and such lesser-known acts as the Louvin Brothers and Paul Brady, she’s tirelessly paid tribute to her inspirations. During the 22 hours in a day when she isn’t playing, unless she has an in-store appearance or an on-air performance scheduled, Kaplansky has had more than ample time to write and revise her latest album. While Kaplansky admits to eating “too much junk food” on the road, she says she tries to eat a lot of fruit to help keep her figure girlish.
Kaplansky keeps informed on world affairs and, being a transplant to America’s largest city, she was affected by the World Trade Center disaster. She just played a benefit concert in New York that also featured Freedy Johnston, Jill Sobule, Joan Osborne and a number of others. “It’s a free concert to help New Yorkers with the healing process through music,” she says.
Kaplansky has released four albums, including her latest triumph, Every Single Day. She recorded that one in only six weeks—mostly done live, albeit in the studio. In addition, Kaplansky worked with Cry, Cry, Cry, a collaboration that also featured Richard Shindell and Dar Williams, which seemed to awaken her talents even further. And Kaplansky can be heard performing on Nanci Griffith’s and John Gorka’s latest albums.
Through it all, Kaplansky has managed to circumvent a major-label deal while managing to live comfortably. “I can’t say there’s anything I’d do over,” she notes. “I’ve been awfully happy with the way my albums have been turning out.”
Couldn’t agree more.