There have been folk singers who have been revered for their sagacity, their insight, their fresh take on the world around them. Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Utah Phillips come immediately to mind. Some of them have even been praised as geniuses. But there are few real scholars or sharp academic minds among that guitar-whacking, harmonica-sucking lot.
Which is one of the two ways in which Lucy Kaplansky really stands out from the crowd. Kaplansky got her start singing in Chicago bars. Fresh out of high school, she packed her bags for New York City and found herself among the likes of John Gorka and Cliff Eberhardt, relative giants of the singer-songwriter scene in the '80s and '90s. She found a singing partner in Shawn Colvin, and just when it looked like she was on the up and up, she dropped it all to go back to school.
Over several years, Kaplansky earned a doctorate degree in psychology, springboarding herself into a private practice with chronically mentally ill adults. It was, she said, her calling. And yet music continued to call, too, in the form of old collaborators like Colvin, Nanci Griffith and Suzanna Vega. Kaplansky kept her day job but pitched in on one folkie friend's project after another until, in the early 1990s, she got a call from famed Red House Records and she found herself enmeshed in a musical career once again. Touring behind her 1994 Red House debut, The Tide, she found herself so over-worked that she had to make a choice: She left the shrink job behind.
Since then, Kaplansky has garnered mass critical acclaim for albums like Flesh and Bone, Ten Year Night and Every Single Day. And not because she can tour with a "Dr." in front of her name (which she doesn't), but because of the second thing that sets her apart from acoustic peers: Melodizing or harmonizing, Kaplansky has one of the clearest, sharpest voices in the business. Want to know why she's one of the most wanted singers in nouveau folk circles? Just listen to Cry Cry Cry, her 1998 harmony-heavy collaboration with Dar Williams and Richard Shindell. On her own, Kaplansky rings out over the instruments; with Williams and Shindell, her voice blends in so seamlessly you begin to wonder if you're listening to some pleasant, three-headed folk hydra.
And though she's given up (at least for now) on clinical psychology, her gift is not lost. She's currently touring on the popular The Red Thread, a batch of some of the most insightful and clever songs in the folk scene today. Show up at DiLuna's and request the post 9/11 response song, "Land of the Living." Now that's good medicine.
Agony Is the Ecstasy -- Metalcore: A genre showing its age. We can rebuild it. We can make it better than it was before. Better, stronger, more intense. This could easily be the manifesto of Agony Scene, a young, metallic five-piece that incorporates some of the best elements of heavy music's past -- the thunder and dissonance of American hardcore, the weight of Euro death-core and the sheer musicality of British steel -- while putting in an inordinate amount of time and effort into turning it all inside out, transforming those influences into a new creature for the Garden of Metal.
For heavy rock fans with their eyes fixed on what's next rather than on what's gone before, this squad may be one to watch. And you can do that Thursday night as the Agony Scene mounts the Fat Tuesday's stage along with fellow national-touring artists Strapping Young Lad (the show's headliner), Reflux, Misery Singles and a local band called Takeover.
Current members Michael Williams on lead vocals (not to be confused with the EyeHateGod singer of the same name), Chris Emmons and Steven Kaye on guitars, Brian Hodges on bass, and Brent Masters on drums hail from Tusla, Okla., where the band formed, sporting a slightly different lineup, in the early part of this century. Tulsa is a place not just off the map as far as the music industry goes, but off the map as far as just about everything goes. This is the place the entire Cherokee Indian nation was sent in 1838 via the Trail of Tears. It's desolate, insulated and not particularly nurturing of those harboring artistic ambitions. For the Agony Scene, however, the isolation provided the clean slate the group needed to explore new rock vistas and to develop a distinctive sound. (It's always easier to avoid jumping on the bandwagon when there is no bandwagon.)
The band has followed up on its promising yet embryonic self-titled 2003 debut with this year's The Darkest Red on Roadrunner Records (release date: May 24). The new album is more fully realized than its predecessor while placing those formative influences at an even greater distance. The result is a thundering slab of modern heavy rock fury that is uniquely poised to stand out in the densely packed metal crowd. All hail the new loud. -- Mike Corrigan
Strapping Young Lad, the Agony Scene, Reflux, Misery Singles and Takeover at Fat Tuesday's Concert Hall on Thursday, May 12 at 7 pm. All ages + full bar for 21 and older w/ID. Tickets: $10 ; $15, at the door. Call: 489-3969.
Still Working for the Weekend -- "You want a piece of my heart? You better start from the start." Well, if you want a piece of the one and only Loverboy this weekend - and what self-respecting, headband-and-leather-pants-wearing hot child of the 1980s wouldn't? - you better start with a ticket to the band's show at the Spokane Arena this Saturday night. It's all part of Loverboy's 25-year anniversary tour commemorating the infamous year known as 1980 and the Canadian quintet's first introduction to the world. Remember that? The "Turn Me Loose" video on MTV? Singer Mike Reno's hilarious crooked-toothed sneer ("I gotta do it my way -- or no way at all!")? The Get Lucky album with the red leather-clad ass shot and crossed fingers? Oh, man -- those immortal lyrics, those ubiquitous music videos, those too-tight trousers, those infuriatingly catchy FM radio hits coming at you: pow, pow, pow!
It's all coming back now isn't it?
Have a blast. -- Mike Corrigan
Loverboy at the Spokane Arena on Saturday, May 14, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $18.50. Call 325-SEAT.