The blues came early to Patty Larkin.
"I remember being small and standing underneath the keyboard while someone was playing barrelhouse blues and I felt like I had just seen God; it was a great sound to me," she notes for a Web site bio.
And since those childhood experiences singing with her grandmothers and listening to them play the piano, Larkin has become a master acoustic guitarist, a talented multi-instrumentalist, and an articulate songstress. She conveys an ambitious spectrum of moods in her music, from deep soul and longing to crackling humor and irony, all wrapped in smoky, lyrical vocals.
Larkin's tender, yet insistent acoustic guitar dominates her recently released album Red=Luck. It's a mix of different musical styles and textures, from celtic and folk to rock and blues. Larkin collaborates with such diverse musicians as folk-rocker Jonatha Brooke, Australian slide-guitar wizard Jeff Lang, and members of the Celtic band Solas. She wrote the songs on Cape Cod, where she keeps a recording studio.
During a recent performance in NPR's Studio 4A, Larkin tells NPR's Bob Edwards that "Red=Luck came out of a trip to China I was about to take... my first cross-cultural experience outside of the womb of the United States.... The color red was considered good fortune and luck."
Larkin earned a degree in English literature from the University of Oregon, but she tells Edwards that she knew afterward that she wanted to focus on music, so went on to graduate from Boston's Berklee College of Music, and to years of training with guitar teachers.
"I felt like it was a really good base, to be as broad as I could," she says of that experience.
And her mother is a painter, which adds to Larkin's rich grounding in the fine arts. It may also be a secret to her capacity — identified by filmmaker Sidney Pollack, who used her music in the film Random Hearts — for writing "visually."
That quality comes through in songs such as "The Cranes," written immediately after she watched sandhill cranes filling the sky on their 7,000-mile annual migration from Nebraska to Siberia, and "Inside Your Painting," which offers this vivid tableau:
"The sky is vermillion, the sun is sienna... another chartreuse day...The landscape is shimmering, outside of Vienna, doing the tour jete."
Vermillion, sienna, chartreuse... and the blues. "A palette of colors unknown to the Crayola," is how Edwards describes Patty Larkin's spectrum. And Red=Luck.