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FOLK

Patty Larkin

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January 22, 2008

Watch the Sky (Vanguard)
Patty Larkin explores the possibilities of musical solitude on "Watch the Sky," her 11th collection. After two decades of collaborations with a stellar roster of peers - her last album featured the talents of Duke Levine, Jonatha Brooke, cellist Gideon Freudmann, and members of Solas - Larkin wrote, played, produced, and engineered the tracks on her new effort, and she's come up with a stark, yet varied, palette of ambient folk-pop that shimmers softly and speaks in potent, dreamy tones. "Phone Message," a contemplative raga made of bazouki, baritone and electric guitars, and drum loop, blurs the line between earthy songcraft and modern technology, and the rest of the album follows suit. Some tracks skew on the side of meat-and-potatoes singer-songwriter fare, such as simple, lovely "Cover Me"; the measured devotional "Dear Heart"; old-timey "Waterside"; and the winsome coming-out celebration "Hallelujah" (although the latter boasts the delicious sound of Larkin's self-invented "slapsteel," a lap steel guitar detuned and played with a drumstick). The most gripping songs find Larkin at her most intrepid: She nails the misplaced dream of "Hollywood" in a queasy, narcotic thumbnail and chases it with a slinky, beat-driven soul tune more redolent of Erykah Badu than the folk tradition. Twenty years into her career, Larkin wears adventure well, and that's no small accomplishment.

[Joan Anderman]

Patty Larkin performs at the Museum of Fine Arts March 8. Tickets are $20-$25 at mfa.org/concerts or 617-369-3306.

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