Lucy Kaplansky at the Rudyard Kipling, March 21, 2000

By Michael Campbell

Dr. Lucy Kaplansky, tres chic in folksinger black, opened with the equally dark "Angels Rejoiced" before treating a small, cult-like audience to her own compositions from her latest Red House Records release, Ten Year Night. The bleak, traditional Louvin Brothers tune (a "mommy died and went to heaven" number) was given a folk reading, rather than the Appalachian excess that usually renders it maudlin. It also provided a logical starting point for the introspection to follow.

The sparse turnout was probably due to the well-promoted Susan Tedeschi show at the Bomhard Theater, where, ironically, Kaplansky performed with Dar Williams and Richard Shindell (as the group Cry, Cry, Cry) a few months back.

Undaunted by the small turnout, but astounded by the audience members' knowledge of her and her work, Kaplansky drove a somber musical set, punctuated by playful humor that included a performance of a song about pi composed by her mathematician father. Her own songs imbed sometimes brutally honest observations within a traditional folk structure (I-IV-V and relative minors). These two aspects successfully complement each other, as exemplified by her line "falling like a leaf from the family tree," delivered with a telling, matter-of-fact resignation.

The evening's standout performances included "One Good Reason," "Ten Year Night," which describes the night she met her husband and employs intimate pauses between intricate fingerpicking, and "Turn the Lights Back On." This song examines the value of therapy and surfaces Kaplansky's strong sense of justice, convincing the listener she's not a person to tick off.

The therapy connection occurs naturally, as Kaplansky took an unusual career detour: a doctorate in psychology and a practice treating chronic mental illness. Musical associates like Shawn Colvin and Nanci Griffith (both of whom have employed Kaplansky's vocal support on their recordings) kept calling her home, ultimately luring her back into music on a full-time basis. And on the first night of Spring, that was our gain.