Over the Hills

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Over the Hills album coverI've told you before how much I like New York-based folkie Lucy Kaplansky. I bought three copies of her 2004 album The Red Thread (one to keep and two to give away). So I was stoked to see she had released a new CD, Over the Hills, and grabbed it up as soon as I had some CD-buying cash to spare.

Over the Hills isn't as good as The Red Thread. This doesn't surprise me, as The Red Thread was a masterpiece, once-in-a-lifetime kind of record. The overall sound of the record is very classic, with mostly vocals and acoustic guitar by Lucy herself, accompanied by excellent slide and steel guitar by Larry Campbell, as well as occasional electric guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. It's musically very solid, but I don't hear anything particularly inspired or original on it.

The songs on Over the Hills are about half original compositions by Lucy and her husband/writing partner Richard Litvin and half covers. The original songs follow the trajectory begun on The Red Thread; they are very family-centered and concerned mostly with parenthood ("Manhattan Moon") and the loss of friends and family ("Today's the Day," "Over the Hills," and "The Gift"). These are the album's strong suit. Lucy's voice shines brighter and seems to convey more feeling when she sings her own songs. Though I very much like some of the covers she chooses (especially Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and Loudon Wainwright III's "Swimming Song"), she just doesn't seem to feel them as much as she does her original compositions, so I don't feel as much listening to them. The exception to this is Lucy's version of "Someday Soon," a country song written by Ian Tyson and made famous a number of years back by Suzy Bogguss. I've always liked the song, and is much improved by Lucy's pared-down vocal and slightly wry delivery.

The real don't-miss track on the album, though, is Lucy's inter-generational women's anthem "Amelia," a story told by an old woman who is unsatisfied with but resigned to the life she's led ("My name is Amelia/I used to be a pretty girl/Got married 'cause it was time/No reason to finish school") but hopeful for the next generation ("The world outside her room/Is a place she calls her own/My story's almost over/Hers has just begun"). Here you see both Lucy's writing talent and her vocal talent shine, in the most unpretentious of ways.

Overall, Over the Hills is a very good album, and one I'm happy to now have in my collection. I will continue to try and see Lucy perform whenever she is in town and to follow her career.

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