Paint the sound red
Patty Larkin broadens her sound and emotional palette
Singer-songwriter Patty Larkin performed in Eugene when she was studying at the University of Oregon, so her influences are liberally wide-ranging.
They include Richard Thompson, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon Ñ the usual suspects, she says Ñ along with some other unlikely sources.
'Five years ago,' she says, 'I started opening musical borders in my own writing and listened to people I might not be similar to but might be influenced by: Beck, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Meshell Ndegeocello and Chris Whitley.'
The result, Larkin thinks, is best put by Bonnie Raitt.
'I bumped into her one night, and she said, 'People have sent me your CDs. You have your own thing going on.' I didn't know she was listening to me. That's a big compliment,' says Larkin, who is a feisty 51 but doesn't look it.
Larkin is talking by phone from her Cape Cod, Mass., home on the eve of a West Coast tour behind her 10th album, 'Red = Luck.' She'll be touring with a band: Ben Wittman on drums, Marc Shulman on guitar and Merrie Amsterburg on baritone guitar and bouzouki.
'Red = Luck' reflects the Chinese connection between the two elements and also alludes to danger, seduction and sunsets. The album is an incisive compilation, reflecting Larkin's wit and sophisticated arrangements.
Larkin laid down the basic tracks on a dizzying collection of instruments, including her Fender Stratocaster, a lap steel guitar and a funky little 1960s Guild guitar 'with strings about as old.' On the acoustic side, she used an Olson six-string guitar, a 12-string guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, accordion, piano and harmonica.
As if that wasn't enough instrumentation, she invited guitarists Jeff Lang, Duke Levine and Shulman to kick in, along with bassists Richard Gates and Mike Rivard. The Irish band Solas added fiddle, mandolin and accordion, and vocals came from Willy Porter, Jonatha Brooke and Amsterburg.
The subjects Larkin tackles encompass innocence, friendship, migrating cranes, children, Italian shoes, Birmingham, Ala., lost love, fun and noise. The last song is called 'Louder.' What can you do but turn it up?
She's also got a couple of songs relating to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, including 'Normal,' which she's only performed twice.
'It's probably like 'Broken English,' ' Larkin says, referring to Marianne Faithfull's magnetically bleak 1978 comeback. 'It goes so deep and into such a dark place that when I'm finished, it's hard to follow with something else. But it's harmonically different. I like where it goes in the end. That's how I felt when I wrote it, how much angst comes out.'
Larkin says she's based her whole career on the angst of modern life:
'It's interesting the way older material can be reinterpreted after 9-11. We're moving so quickly through new times, it's amazing that certain art and music can have new meaning, especially after 9-11' and the outbreak of the war in Iraq.
Larkin used to write songs when she was traveling alone by car to gigs Ñ 'You tend to think about things; there's space in a car' Ñ but she doesn't do that as much these days.
'Most of my old songs are guitar driven. I'd get the riff, then a melody and then the lyrics,' she says. 'The difference with this album is I came up with the guitar, melody and lyrics simultaneously. I wasn't reinventing the wheel this time.'