Returning the favor

Patty Larkin comes to Putney for the woman who helped jump-start her career

PUTNEY — Singer and songwriter Patty Larkin is returning to Vermont for a concert for Next Stage Arts Project on Saturday, Feb. 9, at 7:30 p.m.

For more than 25 years, this Boston-based singer-songwriter and guitarist has redefined the boundaries of folk-urban pop music with her inventive guitar wizardry and uncompromising vocals and lyrics.

Larkin is performing in Putney at the behest of Maria Basescu, the new executive director of Next Stage Arts Project.

“I have been friends with Maria from years and years in Boston,” Larkin says. “Maria was very instrumental in giving me my break in show business. She took me out of the clubs and into the larger venues of the concert stage. Then came my first album, and I became a nationally touring artist.”

Larkin says she's also here due to good old word of mouth:

“I am excited about Next Stage, where I never played before,” she says, “because I keep hearing that it is a fun place to perform.”

Larkin has a long history of performing in the area. “I love Vermont and am always glad to be back,” she says. “I think my earliest concert here was as long ago as 1991, when I performed with Will Ackerman at Marlboro College. Will put out one of my first records on his Windham Hill” (label).

In 1990, Larkin signed to Windham Hill's new High Street label and began releasing such highly acclaimed albums as Tango (1991), Angels Running (1993), Strangers World (1995) and Perishable Fruit (1997).

Today her discography lists 12 solo albums and two collaborations, including her most recent release, 25 (2010), a retrospective of her rich career.

On this CD, she reworked 25 of the love songs she wrote from 1985-2010 in voice and acoustic guitar, and performed them with friends she met along the way. Among the 25 artists joining her on the release were Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bruce Cockburn, Suzanne Vega, and Rosanne Cash.

Larkin says she will perform many of these songs in her upcoming Putney concert.

Swept up in the sounds

Larkin grew up in a musical and artistic family in Milwaukee. She began classical piano studies at age 7, and became swept up in the sounds of pop and folk in the 1960s, teaching herself the guitar and experimenting with songwriting.

Larkin sang throughout her high school and college career, starting out in coffeehouses in Oregon and San Francisco. Upon graduating with her degree in English, she moved to Boston and devoted herself to music, busking on the streets of Cambridge and studying jazz guitar at Berklee College of Music and with Boston-area jazz guitarists.

Larkin describes her work as “an exploration of my sense of self” and her place in the community.

“I analyze my emotional reactions to the world around me and try to give a glimmer of hope.”

But although she says she believes her art comes out of the personal, she has a distinct sense of commitment to the social. She confesses to having written a few political songs, though she says she finds that genre heavy-handed.

“I prefer humorous songs, which I always put in my shows,” she says.

Larkin has also been honored by Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino with “Patty Larkin Appreciation Day” for her music and her philanthropy.

She lives with her partner and two adopted children in Truro, Mass., a resort town on Cape Cod, where she gives an annual benefit concert with proceeds going to different local non-profits.

'Wonderfully frustrating'

Although Larkin has written many songs, she says composing is often difficult.

“Songwriting is part of the business, part of the exploration of who I am I find it all wonderfully frustrating. Like most writers, I often put off writing. But I can honestly say that I am not as happy as when I am writing, even if it is so hard,” she says.

“My songs often begin out of my journaling, or out of my reading. I used to work around the clock on songwriting, but these days it takes a little more to get me going. But I truly think that when I can set aside a string of days on writing I do my best work. I must have over 40 completed or at least partially completely new songs, but I find myself unable to say they are finished. I have all these ideas, but it takes a record to get me to put them down on paper.”

Larkin says she considers herself a singer/songwriter first and foremost. That said, she was executive producer - and more - on one of her most beloved endeavors: La Guitara: Gender Bending Strings (2005) for Vanguard Records. It is a compilation of international women guitarists helping Larkin refute the notion that there are no great women guitarists.

“It is my belief that women guitarists of the past played a part in the evolution of the instrument and that their story is largely untold. I also believe that there are women guitarists today who are actively changing our preconceptions about gender and guitar heroes. This project is dedicated to these artists, past and present, waiting to be discovered, needing to be heard,” she wrote at the time.

In the credits for that project she is listed as composer, engineer, executive producer, and primary artist. She also contributed a song, Bound Brook.

Larkin also toured extensively with the artists contributing to “La Gitara,” and reports they're “amazing guitarists.”

Larkin's songs have been featured on several soundtracks: Anyway The Main Thing Is for “Evolution” (Dreamworks); Good Thing for “Random Hearts” (Columbia Pictures); and Coming Up For Air and Tenderness on the Block for “Sliding Doors” (Miramax).

“It often is a weird twist of fate how you get into the movies,” she says. “Sydney Pollock, the director of “Sliding Doors,” was driving through L.A., heard my song on the radio, went to Tower [Records] and found the CD, and the next thing you know I was in a Gwyneth Paltrow movie.”

She found that being in a movie is a wonderful experience. When she saw “Sliding Doors,” she says, “I found myself jumping up and down in my seat, crying, 'They're playin' my song!' It's a great compliment when moviemakers use my work - that is, if the film's not super-violent or anything like that.”

After the upcoming Next Stage Concert, Larkin says that the next gig in the area will be more personal: taking her two children on spring break to do some some serious Vermont cross country skiing.

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