Santa Cruz Singer Songwriter Joe Kaplow Releases Debut LP ‘Time Spent In Between’ With Record Release Party in Soquel, CA (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

Santa Cruz, California Folk singer, Joe Kaplow (pronounced like a firecracker goes “pow”), released his debut record, Time Spent In Between on Friday, April 12th and marked the occasion with an LP release party at Michael’s On Main in Soquel, CA that very night. The record is a collection of folk songs that could easily find their roots in early 70’s Neil Young and The Band. This is an album of sonic beauty and space, a fullness of unrefined low fidelity with some tripped out twists that were recorded, by aesthetic choice, on an old Tascam 4-Track to which many of you might have committed demos from your garage band back in the day. The subtle hiss of the cassette recording creates warmth and lends truth to some incredibly powerful songs packed with lyrical turns that can gut punch as quickly as they can make you smile.

Joe is a graduate of Berklee College of Music but there is nothing here that hints at formal training. Here, instead, there is heart, deeply burnished soul and unflinching honesty that deals with all that makes him – and us – human. That could be said about most folk records, but this is not a collection of cookie-cutter folk tunes. Kaplow weaves his words into musical genres and instrumentation that might surprise you. There’s the “almost” 2nd Line stride grittiness of “Dust Rattler” that could be marched out on a cobblestoned New Orleans street complete with the horn section and a chorus that begs you to sing along with it. “Allison” holds some acid drippy keyboard parts that call the listener to sit back with a head full of something and engage the textures in a song pondering the loss of a friend and yearning for their company.

“Don’t Try to Stay” has a Zydeco shuffle and fiddle that could push a few people in the crowd into two-stepping around the dancefloor where “Corncob Pipe” is, in a word, expansive. It is lazy and loping in its openness but that intentional space calls us and draws us onto the porch to set and rock as shadows lengthen, the days shorten, the ocean waves get bigger and usher us from summer to fall not just in the physical sense of the season change but the seasonal change we feel within us from time to time. The harmonica and almost imperceptibly soft banjo lines put us on a farm where we stack wood and wait on the first frost. The songs tackle the life of the travelling musician, the ups and downs of love, death, bouts of sadness along with the tender moments of just trying to reckon with life and one’s place in it. The album closer, “Mavourneen”, celebrates that place and the beauty of walking one’s own path because, in the end, that pat is the only one we can truly take.

The players on this record are Kaplow’s friends. They know him, and they know his style and that is what comes through most. And they were there on Friday night in Soquel. Joe was flanked by his musical brothers Bobcat Rob Re Armenti (keyboard) and Elliot Kay (bass). The three played the night with substitute drummer Spencer Higgins (Mikey Whelan lives in New Orleans now but still makes most tours) who ably filled the chair and an occasional horn section that helped blow the roof off. Supporting the night was none other than Willy Tea Taylor (Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit) who played a solo set and then played with Joe and the boys for two of his own songs to close out the night. And that means something. There’s a compatibility between Willy and these guys from Santa Cruz that works, bridging the space between the coastal swells and rolling golden hills of California’s Central Valley with copacetic harmonies and a deft command of insightful playing. Together, they are awesome.

What Kaplow did on his record was allow room for the magic of what could happen at the show that night. The near capacity crowd was treated to a special brand of deep and rootsy Americana. From the very downbeat the room filled with a wide array of sound from guitar/harmonica to trombone and trumpet and the crowd, ranging from twenty to sixty-somethings, swayed on the waves of music. Those that had heard the record, had a relatively short time to digest it before seeing it presented on stage, but the translation was magic and the energy in the room crackled. Special guest Kat Factor lent her unique, soaring vocals to a burning rendition of “Dust Rattler” and the horns took the song straight to where it needed to go. The music and the moments mingled in a celebratory high and for good reason. Kaplow and his friends have released something into the world that has serious wings. It appeals to us from the heart and it speaks to all of us – young and old. Music on nights like this remind us of the moments we need to hold on to. It sparks our imagination and dares us to live bigger and better. Creativity may be in all of us, whether we put ourselves out there or not, but for many, a guy like Joe Kaplow can give our imaginations voice and a reason to smile into tomorrow.


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