Larkin returns after the mess, Durango Herald, July 8, 2008

Note: I’m not crazy about the title the Herald gave this story. My suggestion was Patti Larkin–Independent Troubadour, but I suppose those words are just too long for the column width!

Patty Larkin demonstrates one of the many techniques she will use in the Abbey Theatre on Friday. She plays an electric baritone guitar with a child’s violin bow.

“I was like a kid in the candy shop,” singer, songwriter Patti Larkin said of her new album, ‘Watch the Sky.’ “I took everything out and made a big mess. Then I’d go back and focus.”

She talked about the process of creating, producing, engineering and editing her own music when we spoke by phone from her home near Boston last week. She explained how the engineering and editing have become part of the creative process because of technology.

The songwriter could write in the studio using all the snippets of music, tools and anything else she wanted to create a song. The album features unique instruments like a toy organ, bazouki and door chimes, as well as original sounds created by playing an electric baritone guitar with a child’s violin bow and a lapsteel, detuned, played with drumstick and hand. The result is a wholly innovative sound that the Boston Globe called “wild perfection.”

“Using modest means, Ms. Larkin gets profound results,” The New York Times said, adding that Larkin is “a superb slide guitarist whose mature work is comparable to the best of Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams.”

Larkin has performed since 1985. This is her 10th CD. Larkin is a musician’s musician who joined a distinguished group including Duke Ellington, Sting and Natalie Cole when she received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music in Boston, a testament to her desire to learn as much as she could about the guitar.

“I realized the enormity of the task and somehow gave myself permission to climb the mountain. I’m still learning,” she said.

She’s learning, but also expanding the possibilities of the instrument.

Of the solitary recording process, Larkin said that is a coming together of old and new: “Funky collectable instruments, beautiful handmade acoustic guitars, and computer software that has changed the recording process for so many songwriters. It’s a new world out there.”

The process allowed for a level of freedom in which Larkin relished the opportunity to pull everything out in the studio.

“You can always rein it back in, but if you stop before you get there, part of that creative moment is gone,” Larkin said. “Now you’re doing something that is safe.”

For Larkin, it wasn’t about safe, it was about walking through the process and watching the sky.

When asked about the title of the CD, Larkin said, “I feel that when great things happen, like death – which is the truest moment of your life – if you’re someone looking for an answer, you can find it in the sky. It’s calming and truth. Look up. Watch the sky. Get outside. Get outside of your head and what controls your thoughts.”

Which is exactly what she allowed herself to do with these 10 solo recordings. And she also managed to change her live performances to include more looping along with her multi-instrumental performance.

“I can perform and play and go deeper in the live performing,” Larkin said. “I pulled it off and turned a corner in performing.”

If you go

Patty Larkin will perform at 9 p.m., Friday at the Abbey Theatre, 128 E. College Drive. Tickets $17 Durango Acoustic Music members/$22 at the Abbey, Animas Trading, Southwest Sound and Canyon Music, 385-1711. The show is a fundraiser for radio station KDUR.

artsjournalist@mac.com Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the arts.

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