It’s almost inevitable that, at some point in an artist’s career, a ‘greatest hits’ package starts to seem like a good idea. Most are simply marketing ploys, designed to sell the same product yet again. Party Larkin has taken a different approach for 25, her celebration of twenty-five years as a recording artist. Rather than re-package, she’s chosen to re-interpret her past work with the help of – you guessed it – twenty-five different musical friends. The result is a sprawling two-disc collection that gathers together Larkin’s personal favorites, love songs all, spanning her entire career.
Larkin’s friends are primarily from the world of folk music – too numerous for a full listing here, they include the likes of Martin Sexton, Bruce Cockburn, Rosanne Cash, Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and John Gorka. Inviting such a varied and voluminous cast could easily have resulted in a rather chaotic compilation. But everyone involved shows the utmost respect, with contributions carefully crafted to support, rather than dominate, Larkin’s exceptionally intimate delivery.
Larkin rarely sings of love’s sunny side, instead exploring the edges where darkness lurks and love so often results in yearning and heartache. Filled with evocative imagery, her songs are reflective yet brimming with passion tempered with an unwavering dignity. Her voice is perfect for the task; lived-in, weathered by a world of experience both joyous and sad, a little husky and a bit dusky. And Larkin is utterly fearless here in baring her soul. Perhaps re-making these tunes brought forth old memories, as there’s absolutely no sense that she or any of her guests are performing; Larkin in particular is living and breathing in each song, organically attached to the words and mood and meaning of each and every one. She becomes one with the song, to a rare and extraordinary degree.
All guests contribute vocals, with some adding instrumental assistance (guitars, mandolin, even a ukulele), but they’re her compositions, and Larkin retains the lead on all tunes. Arrangements, primarily acoustic, are thoughtful, every ego firmly in check; Larkin and friends know it’s about the song, not the singer. Tunes are drawn from ten different discs released between 1985 and 2008. They’re not arranged in chronological order, and without the liner notes there's nothing to indicate that some came later than others – even her earliest work is mature and wise. They’re not built on big hooks, though she knows how to wrest maximum impact from a good line. Larkin’s compositions are the type that sink deeper with each listen, and the collection as a whole seems to expand with repeated playing.
If you’re familiar with Larkin’s catalog, these versions add an extra dimension to already-strong songs – and it’s a fine collection that’s consistent in mood and overall feel. If this is your introduction to her work, it’s a wonderful place to start, without a weak moment or less-than-exemplary pairing.
And it's a perfect soundtrack to a rainy day …!