Here are album by album excerpts from newspaper, magazine, and internet reviews
NON-KIDS recordings and live performances...
SONGS FOR OLD LOVERS (2011)
"Kaplan's dressed in an artfully tired classic 50s suit, handkerchief showing from jacket breast pocket, shirt and tie and a fedora that's carefully tilted, with a Marlboro moodily on the go. I'm thinking "que passa?" because after all I was way fortunate and so appreciative last year to get to know Randy's wonderful, calm way about words and syncopation via "Durango", his deceptively controlled Americana / Mexicana sparkling collaboration album with Brian Schey - check it out, it's a keeper that sticks, believe me - I'm a fan.
"Amongst that catch-me-if-you-can tequila madness twinkled early-hours-of-the-morning, star-lit glints of mono-chrome 1940s' American pop songwriting - I may have mentioned Hoagie Carmichael in my appreciation at that time. From that beginning, this collection comes as a carefully-built, in-the-image-of, and in-homage-to, the immortal blessed, blissed writing of Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Jimmy van Huesen and Johnny Mercer. A labour of love, this is admirable and puts a reach into Randy's songwriting, a stretch from his "Durango" high-mark and hence, I think it's an instinctive, perhaps brave move. Although recorded in the mid-West, this is Manhattan writ large and titled after Sinatra's 1954 "Songs for Young Lovers". The songs here all bear a relationship with classic 1920s-to1950s American old-school pop, correcting the all too easy, way off the mark thought, that music began with Bo, Buddy, Jerry Lee and Elvis.
""Sad to be Happy" sets the down-beat theme where, sometimes, when you got the blues you truly believe you'll never, but never, get out of it. Spiritually and vocally its uneasy listening, framed in Nick Weiser's minor-key piano, a flawless, understated melancholic saudade, late-night heartbreak in the big, noisy, busy, lonely city. Larry Maxey's exquisite Middle Eastern flavoured clarinet, a laid-back arrangement, and Randy's resigned, drained vocal make "Let's Not Fall in Love" a been-there, still-got- the-scars, déjà vu acquiescent admission of failure that maybe echoes that Tom Waits "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" inevitability. "Hard to Love" concerns bitter but realistic acceptance of the rough end of the emotional pineapple where "I took my chances and you took your winnings" and, invoking the wee small hours of the morning twixt hope and despair, "I Won't Be Around" is doomed, romantic fatalism comforted in blue-note piano, funky brass and Brian Schey's cool upright double bass. "I Will Always Be the Same" understands, sadly, the static que sera unavoidability of certain things where "My world will remain more steadfast than the stars above", and in contrast, an instrumental remix re-shapes the same track into a sticky, percussive 2 am club groove. A song suite flows throughout and if my imagination tells me that Randy Newman hovers over "The Bottom of Her Heart" then that is high praise, not low criticism. Montague Z Young liner-notes the sh*t out of the specific old-song to new-song references, an informed insightful read. Overall, Randy has made a brave move and overall, it works damned well - keep going, buddy."
-Peter Innes / ALL GIGS
"Paradoxical Love Chants: I've been listening to Randy Kaplan’s Songs for Old Lovers in the car. I find that it definitely helps temper the usual disgust and hatred I feel for other drivers, most of whom are old - too old to be driving - but probably not lovers. Anyway, I really like it. About time someone took an ironic pin to the sacred bubble of love, while doing it in such a loving way. Very cool concept. The record could have been titled: Love Songs For Old Post-Modernists. The arrangements, instruments and, of course, Randy’s voice are all spot on. Hope he sells a million of them."
-Bruce William Leigh / Author
"Randy Kaplan is a performer of many personae. In addition to a number of bluegrass-tinged albums in the singer-songwriter mould, he has recently won a cult following with a couple of children's albums.. For his latest release, meanwhile, he heads off in a different direction again to produce a collection of original compositions in the style of the Great American Songbook. But whilst many of the songs here are melodically almost indistinguishable from some of the stuff churned out by Tin Pan Alley in the first half of the Twentieth Century, replete with touches of vaudeville and lounge-jazz, the philosophy on which the songwriting is based is an outright subversion of the form. Indeed, songs like 'Let's Not Fall In Love' and 'Hard To Love' are outright rejections of the values which such songs typically expressed."
"Up to this point in time, Randy Kaplan is best known for his albums geared towards children and families (his past albums have been praised highly by several noteworthy publications and web sites). Now with the release of Songs For Old Lovers (his eleventh full-length release), he heads off in a different direction. This album is Kaplan's tribute to the music of the 1930s and 1940s... specifically artists like Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Chet Baker, and Nat King Cole. But whereas most albums that tread in this territory present cover tunes, Lovers consists entirely of original songs penned by Kaplan himself. Ten slick cuts here that adequately recall the sound and feel of the past... and the cover art is definitely Sinatra all the way."
"New songs, old style - smooth and a little different. Randy Kaplan is a relatively cult solo artist most known for his CD’s of songs for kids, and for some kooky and unexpected choices of covers... "Songs For Old Lovers" is a record of his own compositions, but with the songs written in response to classics from the pre-war period. With the title a reflection of the Sinatra album "Songs For Young Lovers", accompanied by a cover shot of Randy doing his best rat packer pose, the rest of the record continues this theme. By and large, each song relates directly to some of these classics – "Hard To Love", for instance, being an answer to Cole Porter's "Easy To Love", and "The Bottom Of Her Heart" a response to "The Bottom Of My Heart", a 1939 composition, as the extensive liner notes explain... Your appreciation of this record will probably depend on your familiarity with and appreciation of the music of this, pre-pop chart, era. Certainly followers of Sinatra and co. and of the pre-war jazz styles would do well to check this out – as it’s well-produced and composed, and recorded to sound as close to the songs of that era as possible."
-Eddie Thomas / SUBBA-CULTCHA
-J-Sin / www.SMOTHER.net
"Singer-songwriter Kaplan has a husky, wispy sort of voice that curls up and sits on a nearby sofa. Remember Paul Williams’ best songs?"
-MOJO, UK ("Durango" is a Top 10 song pick in the March '09 issue)
"Superb, comfortingly un-hurried jazz-tinged Americana / Mexicana where friendly Steve Forbert-esque vocals and Joe Ely-ish attitude sit perfectly in classic songs that the great Hoagy Carmichael would have been proud to claim as his own. The title track is a wistful lazy delight, expressing desire to up and leave for the wide open spaces - "Oh the city night's not dark, like Durango". And dear old Plonk Lane (Small Faces / Faces - God bless him) would have truly loved Marianne, its mandolin and its chopping-across-the chords guitar. Tucumcari, a muy loco, comical 300-mph US-Mexican border adventure with mariachi accordion and wide-screen movie Dick Dale / Ventures / Shadows electric guitar, leaves you begging for the next chapter. Reason to Be Here features classic Byrds pop guitar, beguiling descending bass lines, True At The Time is quietly hilarious and it takes a couple of quiet listens before the pervy tale of What Is That Noise? unveils itself. The whole album, musicianship and production is absolutely real (as in, not processed or manufactured, with no computer in sight) with art-work and presentation that are way cool. I'll be playing this for a long, long time - you should too. Kaplan and Schey - muchos gracias, hombres!"
-Peter Innes / ALLGIGS.co.uk
"(Durango is a) subtle, warm, well crafted set of songs. Randy Kaplan has a dual personality as a performer of kids’ songs (with none of the usual schmaltz) and a writer of well crafted songs released on several albums over the years. This album has his adult hat on and is a collection of songs he has written with Brian Schey over the past two decades. Ranging from supper club jazz, Broadway like tunes and some very tasty Americana friendly songs this is like a finger buffet, lots of choice... There’s no doubting Kaplan’s talent. Intelligent songwriting will out... The meat here is in a brace of songs in the middle of the album. “What is that Noise?” is a beautiful love song of sorts that begs plenty of questions as to where and what has happened. Nicely picked with some great Hammond organ you just want to listen to this over and over. “Leftovers” sounds like a great long lost Steve Forbert song but better than anything Forbert has written for some time. “You Never Know Why” alternatively growls and skips and at times is reminiscent of Dylan’s 4th Time Around."
-Paul Kerr / AMERICANA-UK.com
"'Durango' finds Randy Kaplan in collaboration with composer, arranger, producer Brian Schey; a wonderfully infectious album rammed with beautifully crafted songs, each as individual as the next but all coming together to form a glorious aural montage for the senses.
"Kaplan's wonderfully throaty, dusky voice and whispery delivery are augmented by some pretty majestic sounding 'scores'; somewhat reminiscent of a subtle Tom Waits, Kaplan and Schey sure make a joyous sound. 'Durango' is a lovely chilled album that begs to be listened to in depth and with respect just to be able to pick up on all its subtleties and underlying nuances. Every song here has been carefully assembled with just enough instrumentation to make it work; never once does the 'score' become crowded or even slightly 'full' - it's a perfect example of giving it all that it needs but no more!
"'Durango' soothes as it excites; it has a beautifully dreamy feel to it and I wouldn't be surprised to see 'Durango' becoming a 'classic' album of our times. Yes, it's that good!! In fact, if music was truly tangible, 'Durango' would feel like the finest silk, the softest leather or the finest ermine! If it were a precious metal it'd be rated at twenty-four carats, at least - it's a real beauty, of that I'm absolutely positive!
"Every once in a while there's an album that comes out that sets new standards and really makes people stop and listen; 'Durango' is just such an album!! Tripping lightly and easily through folk, country and light rock, 'Durango' offers something for most tastes; un-pigeonholeable and genre defying it's a wonderfully laid back and compelling album of the highest order!
"I'm actually stumped for words to describe this work; 'Durango' by Randy Kaplan with Brian Schey is the absolute mutt's nuts, I don't think my meagre words could ever do it full justice, it's just one of those albums that you have to hear for yourself to be able to make your mind up. Just about as good as it gets, 'Durango' by Randy Kaplan with Brian Schey is world class!! Pure brilliance! Absolute heaven!! 'Nuff said!!"
-Peter J. Brown / TOXICPETE.co.uk
ANCIENT RUINS (2008)
"Randy Kaplan does amazing James Taylor–meets-banjo covers of Nirvana’s “On a Plain” and Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” on his Ancient Ruins. Nuff said; go check this guy out."
-Matt Hutchinson / AMERICANA-UK.com
-TIME OUT NEW YORK
"Any record that opens up with its best song is risking being a victim of comparison to it. Yet, though "Ancient Ruins" kicks off with a powerful heartfelt, banjo-drive cover of Nirvana's "On a Plain," Randy Kaplan manages to keep you engaged and surprised throughout. His mix of folk/country melodies and pop harmonies are intimate and there is a ragged feel to this despite the smooth production.
"There are a couple other covers that will probably get a bit of attention, but originals like "A Part of You," "Action Figure" and "The Great Divide" ring truer and more memorably. Sure, a bluegrass take on Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" and an earnest take on Prince's "I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man" have their moments of both genuine and snickering effects, but a few of Kaplan's own tacks are big slabs of soul that need to be the focus of any peek at this record.
"Kaplan has a nice ear for clear pop vocals and arrangements that compliment the more earthy stylings; the mix works, and Kaplan's lyrics ring true in that mix. His themes and tunes on "Ancient Ruins" build off the traditional, but he makes it obvious that the past is only a starting point for his own work.
-Mike Wood / MUSICEMISSIONS.com
"Ancient Ruins" is (a) characterful, understated and charming collection of songs...The mix of styles and textures keeps things fresh throughout and some of the loveliest moments here are the slower numbers such as "Alice Bonvicini" and "Sanctuary Wreath"...The overall sound is nicely understated, which suits Kaplan's delivery perfectly, and the album works extremely well as a whole. Judging from "Ancient Ruins" Randy Kaplan has plenty to offer and should be around making good music for some time to come."
"Kaplan's gentle, almost understated, approach to his art is silky, bright and very contagious. The guy just gets the job done, no fuss, no messin', no big ego - just a very mature, boy-next-door approach which is charming and accessible. Beautifully crafted, sympathetically produced and pleasingly packaged, 'Ancient Ruins' is the real deal!
"Kaplan's self-penned material is similarly seamless and refreshingly familiar but he's also not afraid to take another's material, turn it on its head, and make it his own. Kaplan sounds like he was born to do this, it all sounds so natural, unhurried and almost matter-of-fact. Now that's not a criticism it's praise! Kaplan's way is a rather unique way; he makes making music seem effortless - whether self-penned or covers Kaplan seems to be able to emote without makin' a fuss about it all. Kaplan's acoustic folk tends to border on nu-country but also addresses the need to be commercial; he injects just enough in the way of subtle hooks and singalongability to appeal to the 'pop' market without completely 'selling out'.
"'Ancient Ruins' is Americana through and through, of that you can sure; but Kaplan ensures that his music touches anybody, anywhere - Kaplan mixes seriously sensible with down-home funky and fun, social commentary with more personal observation - it all gets the slick Kaplan treatment and ends up being bloody good music, pure and simple. You don't need to be a nuclear scientist, a mathematician or Nobel Prize winner to get Kaplan's syncopated music, you just need to let yourself go with the flow, sit back, relax and enjoy. 'Ancient Ruins' by Randy Kaplan is a great piece of modern art-folk - nothing too stressful, nothing over-bearing, nothing pretentious, nothing self-indulgent. Kaplan's music, as shown in 'Ancient Ruins', is music for everyone, music for anytime, music for anywhere - beautifully chilled, wonderfully honest, a very tasty piece of middle America that should successfully reach out to touch audiences throughout the world."
-Peter J. Brown / TOXICPETE.co.uk
"(Kaplan) has chosen to open his new album with a rather nifty version of Nirvana’s “On A Plain”. He also includes covers of Prince’s “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” and Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” with some aplomb, particularly on his excellent version of the latter tune. But there’s a lot more to Kaplan than a few novelty covers... as the man clearly displays a clever ear for a decent tune with a number of his own compositions... (His) simple, strong, compelling songwriting carries these charming, wry, humorous songs... (Ancient Ruins) should please anyone either curious about (Kaplan's) covers or specifically interested in bluegrass music."
-Eddie Thomas / SUBBA-CULTCHA.com
PERFECT GENTLEMAN (2004)
-Baby Sue / www.BABYSUE.com
"(Kaplan's) lyrics don't underestimate their listener's intelligence, being literate and occasionally not a little highbrow... unafraid of multi-syllable words or obscure subject matter. Kaplan is a craftsman in the tradition of Paul Simon, to whose "Still Crazy After All These Years" "Perfect Gentleman" is first cousin."
-Sam Saunders / www.WHISPERINANDHOLLERIN.com
-Jeremy Searle / AMERICANA-UK.com
"(Randy Kaplan) stands alone, within equidistant small-rock-hurling reach of PAUL SIMON (and) WOODIE GUTHRIE... His musical approach (on Perfect Gentleman) is homemade cheerful multi-instrumental confidence with a harmonica... plunder chests full of styles and rhythms sitting under clever drolleries and nifty tunes... personal story telling, cheerful nuttiness, ability to slip into and out of the mournful or the weird."
"Quality recordings from lo-fi underground recording popster Randy Kaplan. Kaplan's tunes are nice and laidback... often recalling the music of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. (Rating: 4+++)"
"Not many people wound sing about Eve (as in the Bible's Eve) being the first human hermaphrodite but Randy Kaplan explores that notion on his enigmatic "Perfect Gentleman". He performs his tongue-in-cheek vocals over an assortment of vintage organs and boisterous guitar with a light rhythm section bleeding on the edges. His voice is what's at the center of the mix with an earnest take on life and all its hypocrisies. He's certainly unique and his unique song arrangements will keep fans coming back for more salivating the whole way."
"Kaplan has a pleasant, easy-going hand in his songwriting, and the songs here are instantly likable... This demonstrate(s) Kaplan's ample writing skills."
"Randy's uniqueness and originality come from his uncanny ability to see his world and ours from almost any angle. These perspectives come together in a poetry of contradictions and complexities that are exposed through his hypnotic melodies and profoundly intimate lyrics. His literary yet accessible songs capture ambivalence and investigate the inner lives of human beings in the tradition of Leonard Cohen or Stephen Sondheim."
"...Randy has a collection of cheap organs and has pulled from them many different rhythm tracks to which he writes his music too. That's about the only unorganic thing about Perfect Gentlemen. Kaplan manages to get personal on many different levels throughout the double album. He jumps off with one of the best tracks on the album, "Rusty & New". It's interesting to see the way he can overlap the beats almost seamlessly while creating some very impressive songs on top of."
-Dennis Scanland / MUSICEMISSIONS.com
"Randy Kaplan sounds like a fun guy to have at parties, entertaining guests with his humorous tales of life, love, and interesting characters. He takes a simple approach to psychological, esthetic, social, historical and political problems by turning them into stories. Part cabaret, part folk, part lo-fi inventiveness, Kaplan strums his guitar and provides beat samples from cheap toy organs to accent his narratives about lost girlfriends, bad behavior, the state of the world, useless desires, and such. Kaplan ventures into the surreal, as he discusses Edith Wharton's love for Alexander Hamilton or a woman who won't get off her cell phone, even when she's on the toilet. He pines for Bernadette Peters although he knows he has problems maintaining a relationship with women older than himself, wonders if the Biblical Eve was a hermaphrodite and pines for the Garden of Eden. If Kaplan's topics seem scattered, they are all united through the narrator's consciousness. He's having a good time letting his imagination run wild and invites you to join him."
-Steve Horowitz / POPMATTERS.com
"Kaplan's music is very unique: some songs have a country beat while others project a more alternative feel... He draws very vivid images... and sings about things that everyone can relate to, whether it's our parents, true love or our time in high school."
-Jacque Booth / SACRED HEART SPECTRUM
"It's easy to fall hopelessly in love with Randy Kaplan's music... (His) formula works best on tracks like opener "Rusty & New", a playful folk song that makes love seem incorruptible. Similarly, "One Too Many Times" radiates an innocence that feels natural and unrehearsed. Still more of Kaplan's playfulness emerges in "Bernadette Peters", a head-bopping, tongue-in-cheek story about a biker chick who weighs Steve Martin by jiggling his ass."
-Ryan Humm / SPLENDID MAGAZINE
"Singer/songwriter fans of the world unite! We are dealing with a premium example of a singer/songwriter here. Melody, lyrics, arrangement, production-everything comes from Randy personally. Actually, only one thing does not: the heart of the 28 (!!) songs are rock, jazz, waltz, swing, bossa nova, dixie, cha-cha and rhumba drum samples extracted from 1970’s analogue keyboards. That sounds at first like overboard avant-garde. But Kaplan’s true artistry lies in using entirely simple beats... and laying his wonderful folk compositions so precisely on top of them. It’s as if Randy, in ancient purist tradition, has a big drum on his back and is stomping the beat with his foot.
"And then there are these lyrics! Through simple yet effective orchestration, they gloriously attain lots of room to breathe. And they prosper into genuine stories, stories which require intelligent and open-minded listening. Naturally, without seeming dumb and old-fashioned in the process.
"The man, who comes from Brooklyn, and consequently is already sort of a cult figure in the folk Mecca New York, is often compared with Paul Simon. In fact, on "Perfect Gentleman" he shows himself to be a poignant observer and chronicler of his time. A song about a woman who constantly walks around with her cell phone in her ear may seem, from the distance, cheap. However, to call this song "Never Be Alone" shows that Kaplan has recognized a deeper psychological significance in the standard communication practices of our time. Observations like these are Kaplan’s greatest strength: to look at human behavior, complete with its strengths and weaknesses, from all kinds of perspectives. Kaplan avoids the usual underground singer/songwriter trap of relying on completely obscure and expressionistic language and nonsensical musical outbreaks. His stories are relatively easy to follow and although the presence of his howling dog in "Off Limits" comes as a surprise, it serves and doesn’t distract from Kaplan's "homemade" project.
"Recurrent in his songs is his flashing sense of humor, a humor which is skillfully married to a bitter sense of reality. There’s the anti-Prophet who wishes nothing more eagerly than to receive a funeral as big as that of Jesus or Moses. There’s the story of the overweight middle-aged man who carries around a picture of himself insolently posing for the camera, many years younger and in top shape. With this picture of his earlier self he now tries to seduce women. Of course it is comical. But it is also far more: it is tragic and at the same time, comes from a wisdom, a knowledge of the falsity at the heart of many human endeavors. I do not know who was responsible for landing this Randy Kaplan c.d. on my desk. But may God praise and bless him for it!"
-D. Wonschewski / KONTRASTRADIO
MIRACULOUS DISSOLVING CURES (2001)
On "Miraculous Dissolving Cures," transcontinental singer-songwriter Randy Kaplan sounds like he can hold the line against most folk-pop comers. He compiles a collection of stories that incorporates elements of longing and loss, and from the get-go of "Crushed Berries"- with the line "My friends will save a fly from a spider's web/But then they'll order rack of lamb or baby back ribs"- there's also a serving of irony. Kaplan, who's obviously well-read, conjures the Big Dipper, Sinatra and Job's wife on "Volunteers," a seeming non sequitur fest. But somehow, everything on the album fits together.
-TIME OUT NEW YORK
-Kevin Amorim / NEWSDAY, New York
"Kaplan's creativity sends out sparks. One can only hope that if he eventually cheers up, that won't dilute the intensity of his songwriting."
-DAILY HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE / Northampton, Massachusetts
"Randy Kaplan is a cheeky songwriter with enough personality to stand out from the dulling crowd of singer-songwriters."
LAKE CHAMPIONS (1999)
"(Kaplan's) songs are sweetly personal and wonderfully void of pretentious overtones... The stories he sings wind and twist away from the ordinary and toward refreshing new ideas often humorous and bizarre... never predictable."
-THE BOTTOM LINE / Required Listening preview; New York City
-THE INDEPENDENT / Lawrence, Kansas
"Long Island-born Randy Kaplan sings of modern romance, male neuroses, and quirky character studies with the off-kilter viewpoint of a man who appreciates the blurred edges as much as the finer points. Like Leonard Cohen before him, and his friend and musical compadre Dan Bern, Randy's self-effacing lyrics make you laugh, cry and blush at their honest simplicity."
"(Kaplan's) songs display keen psychological insight... His emotional range is broad, running the gamut from uplifting to bleak."
-THE MATTRESS / Olympia, Washington
REBORN AS BEES (1999)
"Kaplan originals... resound with a thought-provoking consciousness."
-THE INSIDE CONNECTION / Long Island, New York
-THE ISLAND VOICE / Long Island, New York
"Melody, lyrics, arrangement, production... it's all here... The lyrics stand on their own as poetry, unique and compelling in its imagery... This guy's no lightweight."
BOYISH HIPS (1997)
"Kaplan makes us smile as he points out hypocrisy...
(He crafts) exceptionally tender songs (and) pens understated tunes that,
the more we hear them, eventually evolve into anthems."
-THE PERDIDO PELICAN; Pensacola, Florida
-NEWSDAY / Long Island, New York
"Whether he's singing about despair or ecstasy, Kaplan's songs are bittersweet, romantic, and sometimes nostalgic. And his point of view is always original and often startling."
"There's a child-like honesty to Kaplan's songs; he often sounds like someone who doesn't know better than to let his guard down. That makes him endearing."
-BAM MAGAZINE; Los Angeles, California
-THE OLYMPIAN; Olympia, Washington
"Kaplan (has a) bizarre folk style and nasal vocals. Who knows, however, whether it's intentional... or just bad."
"(Kaplan has) a raw sweet edge and a good smattering of humor."
-SOUNDWAVE MUSIC NEWS; Portland, Oregon
"Randy Kaplan writes fine, twisted songs about the perils of everyday life."
-L.A. READER; Los Angeles, California
"Kaplan is a local hero."
-BAM MAGAZINE; Los Angeles, California
"Absolutely enjoyable... Kaplan has a knack for communicating directly with
his audience... playing with his phrasing and reelin' 'em in."
-THE MUSIC PAPER; New York City
-MUSICIANS' EXCHANGE; New York City
"He's damned funny... a little of Loudon Wainwright III about him, and a little more of Dan Bern... He had the audience in the palm of his hand."
-ANTIMATTERS; New York City
"(Kaplan) also performs songs penned by his grandfather in the 20's. (He) has gone on to become a familiar face on the West Coast circuit and his Delta blues/country/folk blend of styles is the perfect medium for his John Prine-like sense of humor... downright refreshing."
"Kaplan's warm, inviting voice (provides) a peek into the future of the
tradition-steeped folk craft."
-LONG ISLAND VOICE; Long Island, New York
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