Lately most new pop music releases fall into one of two sound categories – super-human slick or slacker sloppy. In this sonically schizophrenic environment listening to a release that chooses a middle ground is very refreshing. Lucy Kaplansky's latest release combines solid songwriting with euphonic production values, reminds listeners that there's no substitute for well crafted and sympathetically arranged music.
Kaplansky's professional music career started in the early ‘80's when she migrated to New York City and immediately found a place in the burgeoning music scene, singing with the likes of John Gorka, Suzanne Vega, and Cliff Eberhardt. She even formed a duo with Shawn Colvin. But she left music to pursue a career in psychology. After receiving her degree, Dr. Kaplansky worked in a NYC hospital. Although she occasionally did background singing gigs on albums, such as her work on Shawn Colvin's Steady On and Nancy Griffith's Lone Star State of Mind, she no longer pursued a musical career path. But in 1994 Kapalnsky released her first solo album, largely at the urging of her producer, Shawn Colvin. The Tide jump-started her performing career to the point that she soon had to close her psychology practice altogether. Since then Kaplansky has released a series of superbly crafted CDs. Flesh and Bone came out in 1996, Ten Year Night in 1999, Every Single Day in 2001, The Red Thread in 2004, and now Over the Hills.
Over The Hills combines five original tunes co-written by Kaplansky and her husband Richard Litvin with classics by Bryan Ferry, June Carter, Loudon Wainwright III, Julie Miller, and Ian Tyson. The Bryan Ferry song "More Than This" is the most surprising choice. Originally released on Roxy Music's Avalon choc-a-block with synthesizers and atmospheric effects, Kaplanasky's version strips the song of its gothic artifice to reveal the good bones underneath. Her rendition of the Johnny Cash classic "Ring of Fire" brings the song back to a female perspective that's probably closer to June Carter's original concept than Johnny's macho stance. The strongest original song on the album is undoubtably "Amelia" which paints a heartbreakingly beautiful picture of a woman's regrets and hope.
Produced by veteran acoustic and folk specialist Ben Wittman, Over The Hills never sounds over-blown or too thick. The arrangements allow the veteran bandthat includes Larry Campbell on electric guitar, mandolin, dobro, and pedal steel, Duke Levine on electric guitar, Stephan Crump on electric bass, and Ben Wittman on drums and percussion to do what they do best; play with taste and control. Guest vocalists include Buddy Miller, Eliza Gilkyson, Richard Shindell, and Jonatha Brooke. The overall sound serves the songs, so that during every selection you think, "What a wonderful song!" not, "What great sound!" or "What a super solo!" Yes, this is a songwriter's album.
If you are a mature adult who appreciates superior songs delivered with feeling, Over The Hills will hit all the right spots in your musical pleasure centers.