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Singer aims to be seen as 'cross-genre' performer

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Lucy Kaplansky Red House Records

Lucy Kaplansky says she will be happy it she can continue the life she has followed since the “Great Revelation.”

Kaplansky can sing a beautiful song about dealing with a dying mother as well as present a caustic look at the narcissism we all have encountered. But, 20 years ago, that voice was offering help in clinical psychology.

“The great revelation in my life was that I wanted to be a singer,” she says. “I went back to singing and since then, I have never looked back.”

She will show the result of that self-encounter Thursday evening in a solo concert at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside.

It is a life in which she has been a distinctive backup vocalist for singers from John Gorka to Suzanne Vega. But she also has developed as a soloist and composer, writing songs that deal with personal realities and the troubles of our times.

The band on her albums has the sound of groups like Alison Krauss' Union Station with steel guitar and fiddle, but she says the style of her music in not purely country.

She feels more comfortable calling herself a “cross-genre singer-songwriter.” She looks at the music of Steve Earle and admires all of the influences in it, hoping her work shows the same richness.

Kaplansky, 52, got involved in music when she was 12 and was performing professionally by the time she was 17. She moved to New York City from her home in Chicago when she was 21, with a career in music in mind. The difficulty of that career goal didn't take long to emerge and, within a year, she entered Yeshiva University to study psychology.

In some ways, her blend of science and the arts seems to be a hand-me-down from her father, Irving Kaplansky (1917-2006), who was a professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago but also a performing pianist in that area.

Winning her doctorate and doing work in psychology, which she did until 1992, opened her to many of the personal topics she deals with in her music, she says.

Being able to write such songs is one of the best aspects of her career, she says. She has been able to deal with the topics in which she is interested and write in the styles she prefers, she says. But she admits the music business is difficult, being built more on looking for songs that might be momentarily popular rather than musically good.

But such is life in popular music. She says many of the great songs of Joni Mitchell, the Beatles or James Taylor have entered into new chapters of the Great American Songbook, but she points out “a lot of the music from the mid-'60s were junk.”

The commercial aims of radio planners looking for a listening demographic also is a difficulty, she says.

“There are a lot of stations out there who would seem to play what I do, but they don't play me,” she says. “I can't figure it.”

But she says she would rather deal with writing and singing the unheard rather than performing what she doesn't like.

“I end up performing for and meeting great people who really like what I do, and that is just fine,” she says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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