Many veteran artists have taken to re-recording some of their finest songs with new twists put on them. Veteran songwriter and guitarist Patty Larkin is the latest to join the procession. The 25 tracks on this set represent aspects of her writing and recording career thus far. As the subtitle suggests, these are all love songs, and include friends to to aid and abet her in the endeavor. The list is impressive: Martin Sexton, Rosanne Cash, Suzanne Vega, Bruce Cockburn, Jonatha Brooke, Jennifer Kimball, Lucy Kaplansky, Erin McKeown, Greg Brown, Beppe Gambetta, the Nields, Chris Smither, Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, and more.
The possible trap for a collection like this is that this "new" retrospective" is already bound by nostalgia, as these tracks come from ten previous albums. It does transcend this because Larkin, despite not being particularly well-known for her love songs, writes exceptional ones. Her guitar style is signature, rooted in old-school folk traditions and the grit of the acoustic blues. Lyrically, she avoids cliches at all times, and infuses her words with metaphors and images that stretch at the form. Check "The Cranes," with David Wilcox, where Larkin uses the natural world as a backdrop of winter turning into spring with all its atmospheric blessings then calmly contrasts this with her protagonist's plea of desperation. "Brazil," with Chris Smither's trademark bass vocal, creates an unforgettable portrait of impossible lovers leaving their individual worlds to inhabit a new one, without the resolution that they will every meet, let alone become a couple. "Pablo Neruda," with Vega, is a breezy look at the poet's view of love as eternal -- even after the honeymoon's over. On "Here," The contrast between Larkin's voice and Brown's deep bass mumble brings elements of the jazz standard into an age-old Celtic melody. The reminiscence in "St. Augustine" and its metaphors is pricelessly poetic. For Larkin's fans, 25 is a way to revisit the past while aurally observing how deeply and fully the singer lives inside her songs as she grows. With its sparse, clean, warm production, this is a fine introduction for the newcomer, to an artist who may not be a household name, but who has consistently pushed at her own boundaries of excellence to become the thing itself.