CD Review of Watch the Sky by Patty Larkin
Recommended if you like
Joni Mitchell, Jane Siberry,
Sarah McLachlan
Label
Vanguard
Patty Larkin: Watch the Sky

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

A
rtists like Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and Sandy Denny once proved that while an artist may start off singing armed only with an acoustic guitar, a supple voice and a sweetly sentimental disposition, an exceptional imagination can open doors to other outside ambitions. Those same precepts apply to Patty Larkin. Appearances aside, she’s never exactly been your father’s folkie, at least when compared to the majority of her contemporaries whose sole desire was to tap tradition. Indeed, over the course of her previous 10 albums and the expanse of a critically acclaimed 20-year career, she’s never refrained from stretching her parameters or redefining her singular style. Although she began her career with typical singer/songwriter aplomb – being from Boston gave her a leg up on absorbing a certain amount of folk finesse – she’s never settled for following any particular formula, choosing to let her introspective musings guide her instead.

It’s a trajectory that’s served her well, and yet, it’s a credit to her sense of accomplishment that she’s never made an album as ambitious – or for that matter, as exquisite – as her latest opus, aptly dubbed Watch the Sky. Bound together by a series of shimmering, sensual soundscapes, it finds Larkin exploring her muse in solo mode, accompanying herself on a variety of stringed instruments, both of traditional origin and her own invention. It creates a remarkable synthesis of execution and elocution; while the songs are melodic and hypnotic in and of themselves, it’s Larkin’s ability to render them with such an effective blend of subtlety and sensuality that sends them soaring.

Larkin’s willingness to defy expectation when it comes to melding her arrangements with obtuse imagery – as reflected in the exotic, meditative raga that colors “Phone Message,” the bottleneck blues delivery of “Beautiful,” or the atmospheric drift that steers “Dear Heart” and “Cover Me” – affirms her skill in applying ambiance to songs plied with quiet contemplation. Ultimately, she purveys a unique type of mood music, not the unobtrusive background sound that fills office lobbies or cinematic scores, but rather a type that boasts a definitive emotional core. She creates a sonic embrace that’s serene and yet surreal, one that treads softly while whispering seductively. “Traveling alone is a wonderful thing,” Larkin muses, and indeed, it’s a joy to hear Larkin navigating such a remarkable solitary trail. As her fans have learned so well, hers is an artistic route that’s always well worth tracking.

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