Song of the Day, February 10: Me And That Train by Patty Larkin

larkintrainToday’s song is a powerful metaphor used with smart grace. From 1991 to 1995, Patty Larkin released a trio of stunning albums: Tango, Angels Running, and Stranger’s World. A standout on the third of these powerful discs is Me and That Train. The central image is a treacherous mountain drive in the ice and snow, with Larkin’s car skidding toward an oncoming train. She uses that drama to frame a handful of stories. Romantic betrayal and armed robbery intersperse with the impending traffic tragedy creating a wonderful tapestry.

Larkin’s vocal is restrained but urgent, building in intensity as the song progresses. Her trademark guitar wizardry enhances the tension nicely. The result is a dramatic story told in parts, the conclusion left to the audience’s imagination.

Enjoy this powerful song today.

 

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Song of the Day, December 16: Booth of Glass by Patty Larkin

larkinboothToday’s song is a delightful reminder of how communication changes. Patty Larkin recorded Booth of Glass for her wonderful album Angels Running. It’s a tribute to the frustrations of being a travelling musician, separated from home and family. She sings of finding phone booths to make her regular calls, stymied by never synchronizing her call with a time that anyone is home.

Larkin crafts each calling scene perfectly, capturing the various locations of each phone with smart variety. Even though the phone booth has nearly vanished, the wistfulness captures a timeless spirit of distance and ache.

Enjoy this lovely song today.

Song of the Day, January 19: Best of Intentions by Patty Larkin

LarkinGreenBestIn 2013, after a series of family crises and losses, Patty Larkin crafted one of her finest albums. Still Green is a smart set of reflections on life, love, and loss. One of the standout tracks is Best of Intentions. Larkin opens with “The man in the hallway is cleaning up grief”, then uses metaphors of travel and lodging to explore the efforts we make and their consequences. Delivered in one of her finest vocals, the song is energetic and emotional, recognizing that things can’t always turn out like we expected — or wanted.

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, January 26: Rear View Mirror by Patty Larkin

LarkinPerishMirrorToday’s song is Rear View Mirror by Patty Larkin. It appears on her 1997 album Perishable Fruit, her fourth and final with High Street Records. Larkin produced the disc  — the first time she had done so without a collaborator. She also banned percussion from the sessions. As a result, many of the songs lack the immediacy of her best work; when the experiment succeeds, however, it’s brilliant.

Such is the case with this low-key epic. A very long song by Larkin standards — clocking in at 7:17 — it opens with an aching vocal observation:

I saw you as you drove away
You checked yourself in the rear view mirror
I thought that you were looking at me

Then Larkin’s guitar kicks in, a dark, swirling figure unlike her more familiar playing. She narrates a series of vignettes that dissect modern culture as a backdrop for the betrayal hinted at in the opening lines. The chorus is a pained recitation anchored by the line “I trusted you.” The whole construction is smart, dark, and evocative and shows off Larkin’s continuing growth.

Enjoy this powerful song today.

Song of the Day, July 17: Metal Drums by Patty Larkin

LarkinMetalDrumsToday’s song is Metal Drums, appearing on Patty Larkin’s finest album, Tango. Drawing on real events, Larkin explores protest folk in an angry look at environmental misconduct by a large corporation. Told through the eyes of the families affected by the toxins leached into their backyards, it’s a powerful track. Larkin’s rage simmers just below the surface as the energy of the song builds, her stunning guitar work propelling her increasingly determined vocals.

The environmental plan
Put the site on the list of the Big Top Ten
To the tune of 63 million
Thanks to the women and the wives
There’s a chain link fence up eight feet high
But that won’t bring back their children

Enjoy this potent song today.

Song of the Day, April 14: Nothing Else Really Matters by Patty Larkin

LarkinStillNothingToday’s song is Nothing Else Really Matters by Patty Larkin. After her father’s death, she found herself writing songs — some whole, some fragments, some promises of things to come — intending to sort them out after she had had some time to heal. Then, in close order, her mother also passed away and her sister suffered a stroke. Larkin spent time dealing with the practical aspects of these crises, then retreated to the dunes to contemplate and recover. She sorted through the 40 or so songs she had and selected the finest to work into a new album.

The result, Still Green, is her finest effort in years. Nothing Else Really Matters is the standout track in that stellar company. A wonderful reflection on making the most of life while we have it and the redemptive power of love, it features some of her best lyrics. Unusually, it also relies more heavily on her vocals than her deft and always solid guitar work. She turns in a particularly fine performance — raw, aching, determined, and noble all at once. The result is a fitting tribute to those she lost and a celebration of the family that provide her circle of support.

Enjoy this tantalizing teaser of a remarkable song today.

Song of the Day, January 29: Might As Well Dance by Patty Larkin

LarkinDanceToday’s song is Might As Well Dance by Patty Larkin. It’s a wonderful song of optimism, set to a buoyant tune. Larkin rapidly recites a string of everyday mishaps, evoking a world slowly crumbling. After each set of minor disasters, she launches a hearty chorus, encouraging the listener to rise above petty troubles and find ways to enjoy the world. It’s a simple message but delivered with such joy and passion that it works delightfully well.

Ah, the boogie man’ll get ya
Ah, when you’re lying in your bed
Pull the pillow off your head
Might as well dance

Enjoy this uplifting song today.

Song of the Day, May 24: Open Arms (Don’t Explain) by Patty Larkin

Patty-LarkinOpenToday’s song is Open Arms (Don’t Explain) by Patty Larkin. The song, from her wonderful album Strangers’ World, features a stirring harmony vocal by Bruce Cockburn. The lyrics magnify the tension in the title, contrasting the open arms everyone should expect with the desire to live one’s life without explanation or apology.

Larkin nicely shows how the traditional power structures and supports — parents, teachers, clergy — can use expectations to stifle personality. In contrast, finding the person who understands and accepts you can be a freeing form of security.

You’re born into a strangers’ world
You learn the language word by word
Take a step and then you turn
And you don’t explain

Enjoy this powerful song today.

Album of the Week, March 31: Tango by Patty Larkin

TangoPatty Larkin grew up in the Midwest and got her college education on the West Coast, but she is most associated with the thriving Boston folk scene. Since settling in Massachusetts in the early 80s, she has recorded an amazing string of great albums and engaged in some potent social justice activism. Her first two albums were recorded for Philo. While promising (and showing off her wit and stellar guitar work), they barely hinted at the power she would later unleash. She released a nice live disc and joined Christine Lavin, Megon McDonough and Sally Fingerett for the first tour of the fun feminist folk quartet Four Bitchin’ Babes. As that tour wrapped up, she released her first disc for Windham Hill’s High Street Records, the incomparable Tango.

Title Tango
Act Patty Larkin
Label High Street Release Date 1991
Producer Will Ackerman and Patty Larkin
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Tango
  2. Used to Be
  3. Upside Down
  4. Time Was
  5. Solo Flight
  6. Dave’s Holiday
  7. Chained to These Loving Arms
  8. Metal Drums
  9. Letter From Vancouver
  10. Deadlines and Dollar Signs
  11. Waiting For the Dawn
  12. Kathleen
  13. Tango Reprise

Things kick off delightfully with the title track. The life-is-a-dance metaphor is often used, but Larkin infuses it with such joy that it takes on new life. The celebration of life and romance is a true delight. From there things move into more pensive territory with the poignant Used to Be. It’s the story of a man adrift in a world of changing values and modern ideas. Larkin takes that personal sketch and gives it broader meaning, working on multiple levels as most of her more intimate songs do.

The sense of change and motion continues with Upside Down, describing the roller coaster effect that life can have. Serious but fun, Larkin’s tone perfectly straps us in even as we think about the bumps on the way. Time Was is a bit of a musical departure, foreshadowing the more complex structures that Larkin would investigate more fully on future albums. It’s jazzy and loose, reveling in a love made sweeter by absences.

Up next is Solo Flight, a great acoustic guitar romp. Larkin is an amazing guitarist (one of the best I’ve ever seen live) and really cuts loose on this short instrumental. We get back into a sense of fun with Dave’s Holiday. A goofy song about the kind of guy you don’t want to get stuck next to in a campground, it shows off some good musical chops and reminds us that folk music doesn’t always have to be serious stuff.

But of course it CAN be serious stuff, like Chained to These Loving Arms, a dark song about love being a (potential) shelter from hard times. We shift from the personal to the political with Metal Drums, a righteously angry screed about a company whose environmental malfeasance doomed an entire town. Larkin then gets personal again with the wistful beauty of Letter From Vancouver.

Deadlines and Dollar Signs is a nice skewering and celebration of the music business, showing off her serious-but-fun approach at its best. Waiting For the Dawn is a condemnation of South African apartheid. It works especially well because of the nearly offhand way that Larkin juxtaposes everyday inconveniences with true oppression. Kathleen is a snapshot-from-an-old album kind of song, a memory of someone lost set to some great guitar work.

Always interested in a bit of fun (she channels Marlene Dietrich in concert), Larkin wraps up this extravaganza of life with an offbeat accordion reprise of the title track. Somehow, it works. On the surface, it’s a typical 90s folk album with personal and political songs alternating over mostly acoustic instruments. Patty Larkin is so far above ordinary, however that her lyrical power, wit, and musicality forge a set of songs that capture the dance of life with maturity, grace, and just the right amount of whimsy.

FURTHER LISTENING: Larkin has never released a dud. Her first two albums suffer from folk underproduction but have some lovely moments. The musical journey she undertook became much more varied and complex (never ignoring her core strengths) after Tango. The standouts are Stranger’s World and Red=Luck. She’s a marvelous live performer, and a go go does a nice job of capturing the essence of her shows.

Song of the Day, March 27: Dear Diary by Patty Larkin

LarkinDiaryToday’s song is Dear Diary by Patty Larkin, from her wonderful album Strangers World. It’s a perfect fit for the album’s title, a view of life through an off-kilter lens as the singer wanders through a rainy night. The various events seem disjointed and distorted, but somehow connected. As her journey continues, she celebrates the rain and the world, however strange.

Ain’t it good to be alive
Ain’t it good
good good good good

Enjoy this lovely song today.

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