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Larkin, Curley celebrate singer-songwriter mode

March 24th, 2011

by Lilli Kuzma; reprinted with permission from Pioneer Press

"I'm a singer and a songwriter, so went back to acoustic guitar. I don't know if I want to include a major seventh in all my work!" said Patty Larkin.

Celebrating 25 years as a recording artist, Larkin's recent release is "25" (Signature Sounds), a retrospective that involved an all-star cast of collaborators (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Roseanne Cash, Janis Ian, John Gorka, Dar Williams, Beppe Gambetta, Chris Smither, et. al.) recorded in a mainly 'unplugged' format.

"It happened very organically, started inviting people and they all said 'yes'. It was very moving for me," said Larkin.

Renowned as a sensational guitarist with inventive stylings, a poetic and clever lyricist, a songwriter of depth and introspection, and a mesmerizing performer, Larkin brings a solo show to SPACE in Evanston Thursday, with Chicago-based James Curley as the opener.

Now Boston-based, Larkin was born in Des Moines and raised in Milwaukee, in an artistic and musical Irish Catholic family. She earned a degree in English from the University of Oregon, and studied jazz guitar at Boston's Berklee College of Music, which subsequently awarded to Larkin an Honorary Doctorate of Music.

"My family treasured music, appreciated singing, group singing, and everyone had to learn piano," recalled Larkin. "But piano wasn't for me, too linear. My parents were both singers, and one of my grandmothers played for silent movies in Chicago. I was exposed to traditional music, blues and folk, Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton songs. I started writing when I was 11 or 12. And I continue to be fascinated by all kinds of music. Hank Williams. Bob Dylan all the time. Or a pop song. Music just keeps giving."

About her SPACE show, Larkin said: "I'll play acoustic and electric guitar, use a violin bow on the guitar to show people where that sound came from (featured on her acclaimed "Watch the Sky" album), lots of love songs from '25.' But I won't be too maudlin, it'll be lots of fun."

James Curley, now of Rogers Park, is a native of Philadelphia, and has been immersed in folk, folk-rock, and Americana music since his teens, when he was inspired by the music at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. He began writing songs in the 70s, a decade that saw his involvement in the music scenes of Colorado, Oregon, and Texas.

Curley's Facebook bio states: "Channeled Ralph McTell and David Bromberg by way of Townes Van Zandt and Shake Russell while working in health food and natural food stores resulting in my current unbalanced dual career track of natural /organic /sustainable foods business development and songwriting."

"Actually," said Curley, "I had a lot of wanderlust, started hitchhiking at age 17, went all the way to Vancouver, all across the U.S., to Mexico."

He came to Chicago with his wife (an Addison native) in 1981 and runs a natural food business, James Curley Market Management. He has recorded two well-received albums, "Tom's Cafe" (2002) and "Manufactured Meaning" (2007), with a new one in the works set for a May release.

"I'm working with John Abbey to craft a really acoustic record," said Curley. "Different tones and textures. Hand percussion."

Curley has performed widely, as both a solo act and with a full rock ensemble, and is thrilled to open for Larkin. "She's a genius," he said. "I'm a little nervous with my relatively mainstream chops, but I think I'll be okay. I'm looking forward to playing mostly new material. I'll be finger picking, and flat picking with a felt pick."

Curley explained that a 'felt' pick is made from pressed felt for a slightly more arrested attack, saying, "I saw Artie Traum playing with one at the Cherry Tree Cafe in Philly around 1977 and then saw the felt picks at a music store a couple years ago. There's great tonal variation, and you can arpeggiate notes and pluck simultaneously. There isn't that 'clicketty-clack' you get (with) regular picks."