Music News & Reviews

Patty Larkin delivers a slice of folk, and pie, to Winters

Guitarist and vocalist Patty Larkin, whose latest album is “Still Green,” will perform at Palms Playhouse in Winters on Friday.
Guitarist and vocalist Patty Larkin, whose latest album is “Still Green,” will perform at Palms Playhouse in Winters on Friday.

Last week was a typical one on the road for Patty Larkin. There were airport check-ins, venue sound checks, baked-goods searches.

“I just found the best bakery,” Larkin said by phone from Durham, N.C. She was standing outside the establishment, having just procured a pie for her show that evening.

Larkin, a folk-rock stalwart who’s set to give a solo performance Friday at Winters’ Palms Playhouse, has taken to raffling off a pie per show. The idea carried over from a recent tour with guitarist Muriel Anderson.

“It was hugely popular,” Larkin said. “And with the holidays coming up, everybody can use a pie.”

Plus, as Larkin added: “It’s my only gimmick.”

Previously, Larkin’s hooks all were musical, and she was known more for tasty guitar work than baked goods. But some late-in-the-game salesmanship can be forgiven in someone whose bona fides include nearly three decades as a recording artist and a current gig as a visiting artist at Boston’s Berklee College of Music (where she once studied jazz guitar).

Larkin, 63, never reached the mainstream like folk-rock contemporaries Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin, remaining in the beloved-journeyman category with Bruce Cockburn and John Gorka. But it wasn’t for a lack of catchiness. (Larkin did get her song “Good Thing,” which is nearly perfect in its love/sorrow line straddling, in the 1999 Harrison Ford film “Random Hearts”).

Larkin’s sound traverses bossa nova, funk and 1960s-coffeehouse-style folk. But her most recent album, 2013’s “Still Green,” showcases her pop sensibilities – at least for listeners who do not always equate “pop” with sunny.

Though guitar comes first in most of her songwriting, “Green” elevates melody and voice instead.

“Usually there is one song on an album where I really just want to sing, to vocalize,” Larkin said. “On this one, it was almost all of them.”

The album followed a period in which both of Larkin’s parents died and her sister experienced a health crisis (she is better now). All while Larkin and her partner of 30 years, Bette Warner, were raising two daughters, now 10 and 13 years old.

“I didn’t have much time between activities and duties,” Larkin said. “I just basically wanted to play guitar for an hour. And I found the songs that were coming out were much more coming from the American songbook, sort of from pop or rock history. I would think, ‘Oh that sounds like Roy Orbison.’ … Usually when I write, it is like, ‘How can I make this different?’ But there is value in working on what’s gone before.”

The lilting “It Could Be Worse” summons Orbison. Larkin’s voice reveals the strain of the higher reaches, as his once did.

Though she’s technically astute, Larkin often lets imperfections show on her albums. The hints of rawness enhance the emotion on songs such as the elegiac “Bon Vivants,” which Larkin wrote during the period in which she spent a lot of time in hospitals.

“This isn’t what we had in mind, when we were younger,” Larkin sings in her seasoned alto. “Who knew life could be so unkind – you could go under.”

Larkin wrote parts of songs alluding to loss while in the midst of that loss. She had trouble revisiting them, she said, because she would break down while playing them. But she pushed through on three songs – “Bon Vivants,” “So Cold” and “Soon As I’m Better” – she included on “Still Green.”

She passed along the struggle to the listener: “Bon Vivants,” an instant choker-upper lyrically, is also catchy, and therefore even harder to forget.

But for all of life’s poignancy, there’s also pie. And lots of it for Larkin, for whom it is not just a professional pursuit.

“My family is getting into this pie-jag thing where we can put something together in like 10 minutes,” Larkin said. The pies always are apple, and involve pre-made crusts, which Larkin acknowledged are “a crutch.”

Pie assemblage in 10 minutes dazzles regardless.

“You can do it in front of company, and it’s impressive,” Larkin said.

Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.

PATTY LARKIN

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Palms Playhouse, 13 Main St., Winters

Cost: $20

Information: www.palmsplayhouse.com, www.pattylarkin.com, (530) 795-1825

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