To begin with a small caveat: The next time any contemporary folkie writes a song about how you fell asleep in the passenger seat on our all-night drive across the desert and I looked at you in the dashboard light and I felt us growing farther apart, I swear to God violence will follow. Swift, terrible violence. Ditto for songs about Jesus and Elvis, in any supposedly ironical combination.
Sorry. It's just that Lucy Kaplansky can, and often does, do better on Ten Year Night when she steers clear of the melodrama and stock situations. Scanning the titles on this disc, you know we're in for some rough times: "End of the Day," "One Good Reason," "Five in the Morning," "For Once in Your Life," etc. These are songs sung by people clutching at the far end of the rope, and Kaplansky runs the gamut here; lost and found lovers, dying parents, hospitals, the hands of little children, failed folk singers, insomniac bouts of self-image crises . . . you get the feeling that no one ever just hangs around the house on a lazy Saturday afternoon. In Kaplansky's neighborhood, everything's a big damn deal.
Only once, on "End of the Day," a straightforward "how do you feel now that you've sold out" cut, does the vibe get truly insufferable. Kaplansky takes juicy aim (armchair Freudians take note) at a sellout folk musician in the first verse: "I used to hear him sing in a Bleeker Street bar . . . /His voice cut through like a speeding car/Tearing through the deals of the brokers at the bar/Then he sold everything for a Wall Street wage . . ." What's meant to be tragic comes off too haughty and accusatory and hipper-than-thou to work well. (But to be fair, I must know about 10 guys that's happened to. The NYSE floor is absolutely eaten up with ex-folk singers these days; you can't throw a cell phone without hitting a soppy outlook on interpersonal relationships.)
Kaplansky aspires here to be a full-on singer-songwriter, more in the vein of Nanci Griffith (with whose voice Kaplansky's shares several positive qualities) than Ani DiFranco. There's nothing terribly esoteric about any of these cuts, which isn't a complaint; her vocal-and-guitar performances are standout and solid, as is the group playing throughout the record. If you're looking for a familiar folkie sound and can't get enough of songs about how people can't communicate, you won't be disappointed.
Strangely, the fairly standard sound on the bulk of the record makes "Just You Tonight," its best cut, stand out all the more. "It's not the bourbon that you've been drinking/That burns like autumn leaves against my skin," Kaplansky sings in a brief moment of unguarded creativity. Say what we might about the rest of the album, that's a hell of a line. And nary a Jesus nor an Elvis nor a long nighttime desert highway anywhere near it.
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