Patty Larkin plays a hell of a guitar. Specifically, she plays a 1946 Martin D-18 acoustic, and if you don't understand how cool that is, bad on ya. That was the era -- up to the late 1940s -- when Martin & Co. was making instruments that went far beyond the term "solid," guitars that don't lose pitch or waver even after half a century, guitars that hold tone as if God himself fitted the frets. Knowledgeable players hold Martins from that era in roughly the same esteem as medieval pilgrims held pieces of the True Cross.
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Patty Larkin also plays a hell of an electric guitar, mandolin, accordion, piano and acoustic slide, all of which she did in her Cape Cod studio in preparation for Regrooving the Dream's sessions, laying down the basic tracks before most of the other musicians even got there. Clearly, Larkin's second outing for Vanguard (following last year's live a gogo) is a very personal affair.
Though Regrooving is only her second release on the eminent folk label, Larkin has been releasing strong, literate roots-folk since 1987's Step Into the Light on Philo/Rounder. She's an accomplished enough player to have produced her own instructional video, The Guitar Techniques of Patty Larkin, and she's done television gigs on VH1 and TNN's "American Music Shop." Her last studio release, 1997's Perishable Fruit on Windham Hill, was named one of the top 10 albums of the '90s by the Wall Street Journal.
Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale
Friday, September 22. Showtime is 8 p.m.
Regrooving the Dream, like the rest of Larkin's canon, is a muscular and lean record, full of her powerful guitar work and lived-through-it lyrics; if your idea of folk music ends at watery lost-love songs, skip this one. Larkin's songcraft is much closer to John Hiatt's Slow Turning than Jewel, dragging the history of a complicated adult life in great bloody hunks behind each track. Lyrics like "That dog was the only thing she called baby," "Now that everybody loves you/Even Jesus loves you too," and "And she was dressed like a nun, black shoes and black hat/But it takes one to know one, and I know about that" speak of a narrator who's put up with a lifetime's worth of bullshit without ever having learned to enjoy it. And sometimes, as on "Just a Few Words," she offers a simple, singer-and-guitar song that Hiatt himself, or the Rain Dogs-era Tom Waits, would surely have killed to have written.
Albums like this give the lie to the old gripe about "all that femme-folkie music sounds alike." Regrooving the Dream isn't a "good female folk album," it's a good album, period. In several places it's a great album, and lyrically it's way above the vast glut of contemporary folk music. Highly recommended.