After ten albums and twenty years in the folk scene, Patty Larkin doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, but with the release of Watch the Sky it appears she decided to anyway. Taking the term “personal project” to a new level, Larkin wrote, edited, and produced the entire album by herself. She also provided all of the vocals and played all of the instruments. All of them. If she weren’t so sincere about her creative process, I’d accuse her of just showing off.
As is the norm with folk these days, Watch the Sky is a genre bending affair that draws influences from other musical forms. Befitting the amount of loops and computer editing that went into this album (because she couldn’t play all the instruments at once), Larkin strays into the world of hip-hop and modern R&B. Now when I first read about this project red flags went up all over the place. Drum machines and folk guitar do not often mix well. But to my surprise, this odd intersection of genres produced the single most engaging and enjoyable track on the album. “Walking in my Sleep” is reminiscent of Macy Gray at her most wistful. It stays true to the down-to-earth intimacy of classic folk while tapping into the compelling rhythms and vocal acrobatics that lend hip-hop its ever-broadening appeal. If any of the tracks on this album find success on the radio, this will be it.
But the album isn’t all experimentation and envelope pushing. Traditional fans of folk will feel comfortable with the overall tone of the record. In tune with its ethereal title, most of the songs on Watch the Sky are airy, heartfelt odes that read like poetic journal entries. On several, the instrumentation drops away to almost nothing and the listener becomes very aware that they are hearing Larkin singing to herself, alone in a room. The effect is deeply personal, and as a result listeners’ reactions will probably have more to do with their ability to empathize with the lyrics than the quality of the music itself. For me, the lap-steel dirge “Hollywood” failed to resonate while “Traveling Alone,” a sonic snapshot of driving through the desert at dusk, was riveting.
Though it is unlikely you’ll fall in love with every second of this album, it is definitely worth exploring. The beauty of Larkin’s musical vision is undeniable, and you are sure to find a few gems on this record that you’ll want to leave on repeat.
Albums available at Amazon.