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'Guitar Driven' Patty Larkin Headlining Saturday At Flagpole Radio Cafe



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‘Guitar Driven’ Patty Larkin

Headlining Saturday At Flagpole Radio Cafe

By John Voket

At age 60, Patty Larkin has settled happily and comfortably into the self-described niche of “guitar driven songwriter.” But she has also helped inspire more than two dozen of her closest musical friends on her newest project, 25, as well as hundreds of students who study with her in college classes and music seminars she leads throughout the Northeast.

Larkin will be headlining the next Flagpole Radio Café, scheduled for Saturday, December 3, in the Edmond Town Hall Theater. Showtime is 7 pm.

Growing up with a household full of Irish singers and storytellers in Milwaukee, Larkin began playing piano at age 7, taught herself guitar by the time she was in high school, and was performing in coffehouses as a student at the University of Oregon and occasionally heading down the coast to ply her material in similar venues in San Francisco.

But it wasn’t until she headed to Boston and the Berklee College of Music that Larkin really hit her stride, studying jazz guitar and learning the complex architecture and tuning styles that have produced a dozen albums filled with her own unique soundscapes of evocative vocals, inventive instrumentation and imaginative lyrics. 

Over her 25 year career, Larkin has worked with some of the brightest stars in American music, honing a reputation as a “musician’s musician.” In 2010, she celebrated a quarter-century of music making with a recording of 25 love songs enlisting 25 very gifted musical friends along the way.

The list of collaborators on the project is a who’s-who of the folk, country and adult alternative genres including Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, Bruce Cockburn, Dar Williams, Roseanne Cash, Martin Sexton, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Janis Ian, Chris Smither and others. The collection is a veritable dream team of friends and cohorts, troubadours, renegades, humorists, folk philosophers, dreamers, realists, poets and bards.

In an exclusive interview with The Newtown Bee ahead of her Newtown visit this weekend, Larkin explained that over a period of several months during early 2010, each guest artist on 25 was contacted individually and asked to come on and sing on unplugged versions of her most requested love songs. 

As she tells it, some of those artists were on the road during the recording time and found recording studios wherever they landed, some were in the midst of new releases, some were in the studio working on their own projects, and other were just plain busy with the business of life. One collaborator even had to slog through an Iowa snow storm – twice – to complete work on his track.

Newtown Bee: I guess working on 25 with so many talented friends in such a short period of time must have been like speed dating with the elite of the American troubadors club?

Patty Larkin: (laughing) Definitely, but these people have had an impact on my writing and my recording and my career. It was really interesting to hear how things changed and how things stayed the same over the years. I was just thinking about Greg Brown, how I haven’t really caught up with him since we recorded. It was kind of a strange thing for him because I just kind of mailed him the track, and then he went and recorded it someplace. But he had to drive through a snowstorm to record it And I was just thinking about that kind of commitment – I think he had given it a shot one day but the place was closed. So the next day he had to drive through this snowstorm, to this little studio in Iowa where he recorded it. That’s really pretty amazing, you know?

Newtown Bee: Did any of the songs change substantially, or magically, once your creation was put in the hands of another artist?

Patty Larkin: I would say that with Jonatha Brooke, and what she did with “Only One.” I’ve always thought of that ballad as this haunting, otherworldly piece, and I feel like she totally realized it for me. She came up with this whole other soundscape around it that was pretty awesome when I first heard it coming through the computer at my office. I feel like she spent so much thought and time on it, I was kind of blown away by that.

That one and a song called “Home,” that a group of my friends called Birdsong at Morning did. There were so many, but I feel they took “Home” to this new place and sort of realized other things that I had not been able to put my finger on – what I needed to hear. The original “Home” I recorded with just voice and guitar.

Newtown Bee: Speaking of voice and guitar, do you set out with a specific idea in your head to write a song that will incorporate lyrics versus a song that will just be instrumental?

Patty Larkin: I think it happens both ways, but a lot of times I set out to write an instrumental – something I’m taken with that doesn’t need a melody on top that I sing. It kind of depends. I used to write more finger style instrumentals a few albums ago and I’d like to get back to that. For songs with vocals, the lyrics and many of the melodies come right off the guitar lick. I’ll be playing with a guitar lick, and then start vocalizing or making sounds above it that become words. I’ve been teaching a course called “Guitar Driven Songwriting” where I just talk about how I do that and give examples of it. I’ve done some clinics at Berklee and I’m giving a seminar on it in western Massachusetts in January.

Newtown Bee: While all your friends came together to help you with your latest project 25, I understand you recently discovered a cause to support that is helping a bunch of other musicians ?

Patty Larkin: Yes, we just did this fundraiser for MusiCares, an offshoot of the Grammys that is trying to help musicians in need. I played a fundraiser for them November 17 to help raise money for their medical, financial and personal emergencies.

Now in its fourth season, The Flagpole Radio Café is an engaging show created by Jim Allyn, Martin Blanco and Barbara Gaines in conjunction with Newtown Cultural Arts Commission. In addition to each program’s special guest, performances feature music by Mr Allyn and The Flagpole Radio Café Orchestra, a dynamic ensemble created for the show, and radio style comedy sketches by the Flagpole Shakespeare Repertory Theatre

Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for students and senior citizens. Contact the group via email at info@flagpoleproductions.org or through their website, www.FlagpoleProductions.org. Prior to Saturday’s show, the Newtown Cultural Arts Commission will be hosting a reception starting at 5:30 pm in The Alexandria Room of the Edmond Town Hall that will include wine, cheese, and holiday music. All ticket holders are invited.

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