It’s not often that the label “folk” is applied to the music of an artist whose work also features electronic beats and tape loops. Then again, Patty Larkin’s music is as difficult to pigeonhole as the work of just about any other contemporary recording artist.
“I’m a musical omnivore,” Larkin said in a recent interview. “When asked what sort of music I like best, I always say ‘good music.’ There is so much going on that I find fascinating. I want to explore it all.”
Larkin has just about succeeded in exploring it all over the past 14 years, during which she’s released seven studio albums. Yet it is her 1999 release, a gogo, which might be her most compelling. Her first live work since 1990’s Live in the Square, a gogo captures the scaled-down complexity that truly sets Larkin apart from other performers.
Think of it this way: Since 1967 when the Beatles and producer George Martin changed the way albums are made by recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, bands have been able to layer their studio albums with numerous tracks to create ambient montages featuring nearly infinite complexity.
Larkin, who has produced several of her own albums, has certainly made use of this recording technique. Her most recent release, Regrooving the Dream, was recorded in Larkin’s home studio on Cape Cod, and is a technically astute album, employing sampling and other electronic wizardry not often found on recordings that remotely resemble folk music. Some musicians have relied upon the magic of multitrack recording and the availability of hired-gun virtuoso musicians to mask their distinct lack of talent. Unless they stoop to the level of notorious lip-synchers Milli Vanilli, these poseurs simply pray that their live audiences show up to the gig too wasted to notice that the “musicians” are about as talented as a group of high schoolers whose first and only band never appeared outside the garage that serves as their rehearsal space.
Patty Larkin, on the other hand, is the real deal. Sure, multitracking allows her to pull off a feat such as playing lap steel, octave mandolin, bass, accordion, harmonica, keyboards, and electric, acoustic, and slide guitars all on the same album, as she does on Regrooving. Only after laying down a large portion of the music that would end up on the finished album did Larkin call in other musicians and recording engineers to put the finishing touches on Regrooving. Although Larkin certainly made use of some of the finest musical assistance available, one wonders if she wouldn’t have done just fine without any help.
Put her up on stage by herself with an acoustic guitar and a microphone, and Patty Larkin’s star shines just as brightly. That is the beauty of Patty Larkin’s music that was captured on a gogo, and that is available if you check out her upcoming show at the Blue Heron.
While her accomplished, rhythmic guitar playing and versatile voice are highly valuable components of the Patty Larkin experience, Larkin’s songs are also stimulating on an intellectual level. Regrooving is a snapshot, circa 2000, of contemporary lives in flux. Larkin captures the pain and the beauty of the human condition, the search for meaning by people whose lives drift from blessed to alienated, sometimes on a daily basis.
“I think that to live a life that is present and inspired by good is a beautiful thing,” Larkin muses in the liner notes to Regrooving. “It doesn’t happen in a steady stream, though. There are minutes or days or years when goals become murky or disenchanting. There are gaps in the plan.
“There are twists of fate or lapses in judgment that change the course of your life. We are forced to rethink things, to muster our energy and refocus our sights—to regroove, to start again—to regroove the dream.”
To choose to blow off the upcoming Patty Larkin show just might represent such a lapse in judgment. In a world overflowing with talented singer/songwriter/musicians, Patty Larkin is a rare talent. Her playing alone is worth the price of admission.
Larkin’s performances also feature the astute social commentary and vision that is the heart of the finest folk tradition—è la Woody Guthrie and early Bob Dylan—and Missoula-area music lovers should be thankful for this uncommon musical opportunity. Regroove—or not—at your own risk.