Settle back in your chair in the dusky light of the Durango Arts Center on Tuesday and drift the windswept dunes of Cape Cod with the music of beloved singer/songwriter Patty Larkin.
What could be better than a song and story-spinning, red-haired siren, her blue eyes half-closed, guitar harmonies rising and falling like a rollicking sea. To feel her life story of lessons and trials through song is a cathartic offering, an opportunity for relatedness and reflections on our own human experience.
The Boston-based Larkin emerges from four years of loss and tender growth to debut her 13th recording, “Still Green.” Twelve songs, prize picked from dozens written during the course of four years, chronicle the emotion and hallowed space after the loss of her mother and father.
To give these songs air and wind to breathe, she moved to the outer banks of Cape Cod National Seashore, holing up in a small, weatherworn shack with her family to remove distractions and focus on simplicity. Along the dunes, a moonscape nestled beside the sea, she would heal and “Still Green” would take shape.
“This album is a watermark for me,” Larkin said. “It took me three years before I could even sing these songs. There are many references to my parents, to sand, to nature. It feels good to have these songs out.”
Born in Iowa and raised in Wisconsin, Larkin studied English at the University of Oregon in Eugene and spent time playing music in Seattle and Portland before moving east.
From a musical and artistic family, she grew up during the “Folk Boom,” learning piano and eventually guitar. Drawing her creative inspiration from the world around her, she was especially influenced by the songwriting styles of Paul Simon, any woman who ever held a guitar, and a lengthy roster of guitar heroes and heroines.
“These days, NPR is my pop music station,” she said, laughing. “I keep writing down names, like composer Gabriel Kahane. I’m constantly inspired by other people.”
“Still Green” takes its name from a Kay Ryan poem titled “Green Behind the Ears.” In a song of the same name, Patty sings, “For it’s hard to be green/and take your turn as flesh/So much freshness to unlearn.”
The album was recorded in Boston and co-produced by Mark Deneen (Aimee Mann & Howie Day) who mixed Larkin’s last five projects.
It is a syncopation of life’s harshness and softness. With dreamy guitar and her resonant, honey-toned voice, Larkin’s humble wisdom is evident. She lays her heart open; a raw and honest witness to deep grief and inevitable buoyancy.
Alongside a talented collection of musicians, Larkin enjoyed “playing whatever I could get my hands on, from my old 1930s National Steel, an 1860s Martin nylon string, mandolins, the studio’s grand piano, a Hammond B-3 and the Wurlitzer. The thing I like about ‘Still Green’ is that it comes together as a band album even though we all played separately.”
After wrapping her 13th album, Larkin has been enjoying time with family between tours across New England and teaching a series of clinics for music students at the Berkeley School of Music in California. In the beginning stages of creating an instrumental album, she said, “When it comes to music making, it’s a never-ending process of discovery.
“I want to put the time in, like punching a clock,” she said. “Little miracles happen both on and off the clock, but dedicating the time creates that opportunity.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. Jaime Becktel is a freelance writer; this is her first Durango Herald contribution.