Together they are even greater than the sum of their parts.
Sometimes degrees of separation are even less than six. Take, for example, Saturday night’s double bill of Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell at Landmark on Main Street’s Jeanne Rimsky Theater. Both artists had performed, separately, at the Landmark in the past. Dar Williams, who performed at Landmark a week earlier, was in a band with Shindell and Kaplansky in the late 1990s called Cry, Cry, Cry. And Landmark’s Executive Director Sharon Maier-Kennelly announced that next season Kaplansky would be returning as part of yet another trio including John Gorka and Eliza Gilkyson.
Kaplansky opened with a Lyle Lovett cover. She’s an aggressive guitarist, and has a strong, velvety voice that sticks to the low end of the range. A highlight from Kaplansky’s solo performance was a strikingly beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Kaplansky took to the piano for this one, and her piano skills were up to par. “Hallelujah” has been covered by everyone from KD Lang to Jeff Buckley to Rufus Wainwright (whose father, Loudon, will be performing at Landmark next season). Kaplansky charmingly admitted that she (like me) was first introduced to the song as part of the soundtrack from the movie Shrek.
Another highlight was her very different version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.” But my favorite part of Kaplansky’s set was when she brought Shindell out to do three numbers with her. Their tight harmonies and complimentary guitar playing were spectacular. My favorite number was the Cry, Cry, Cry song, “Speaking with the Angels,” a slow sad number with some great harmony.
After intermission, Shindell took the stage for his set. He grew up in Port, and spoke nostalgically about his years in town. Shindell’s personable stage presence and excellent guitar skills make him one of my favorites to see live.
Like Dar Williams, he writes deep and intelligent song lyrics — you can lose yourself in the stories his songs tell. One such song is “Wisteria,” recounting a visit to the house in which he used to live. Another is “Reunion Hill,” the story of a woman who still searches for her missing husband 10 years after the Civil War. And one of my personal favorites, “Are You Happy Now,” is told from the perspective of a man whose girlfriend abandoned him on Halloween. The lyrics are clever and well written, and his delivery is perfect.
Shindell was accompanied by Sara Milonovich, an accomplished violinist who played on many of his albums (and who also could handle vocal harmonies with ease). I have to say a few words about Milonovich here because I often feel that backup musicians don’t get their due, and she certainly deserved hers. Milonovich has performed and recorded with many artists aside from Shindell, including Pete Seeger, Cathie Ryan and has toured as a member of the Celtic/bluegrass/roots group, The McKrells. Her solos were astounding, and her accompaniment just made Shindell’s songs that much better.
A particular standout was the song “Transit,” about being stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike and the characters you come across in that situation (one of whom was a nun with a flat tire who was trying to get to her choral gig at a state penitentiary. Who could think these things up?). Shindell also performed “The Ballad of Mary Magdalene,” another Cry, Cry, Cry song, with lovely harmonies provided by Milonovich who sang as she played violin.
Finally, Shindell brought Kaplansky on stage for his final songs, including yet another (and my personal favorite) Cry, Cry, Cry song — “By Way of Sorrow.” Milonovich joined in on the harmonies and it was simply beautiful. Another outstanding number was the Jeffrey Foucault song, “Northbound 35.” An audience member requested “Cold Missouri Waters” — also done by Cry, Cry, Cry — and Shindell and Kaplansky were happy to comply.
It was a wonderful (and long) show, clocking in at around two and half hours of great music. Concert goers certainly got their money’s worth with this show. I highly recommend seeing Red Horse (the Kaplansky, Gorka, Gilkyson trio) when they perform at Landmark next season. The final concert in this season’s folk series is another double bill — Red Molly and Susan Werner — on May 15.