by Al Kaufman
It's easy to imagine folkie Patty Larkin walking into the studio. Her eyes light up as bright as her fiery red hair as she views all the shiny knobs and buttons. She cuts her song (playing all the instruments herself), then plays with all the controls until she creates some new new sound she enjoys. She smiles, goes home, and does the whole thing again the next day with another song. For Larkin, it must have been a wonderful experience.
For us, not so much. There's some great stuff on here. With "Hallelujah," her vocals are so gorgeous they rival those of Emmylou Harris, and Larkin was smart enough to leave the recording tinkering to a minimum on it. She follows it with "Beautiful," with enough bleeps and burps that it sounds like a Laurie Anderson outtake.
If anything, Larkin's venture behind the knobs proves to be interesting. Throughout the CD she layers guitars and strings over drum loops. She multi-tracks her voice. She creates ambient sounds. When done subtly, they add texture to her rich and contemplative songs. And it all comes together beautifully on "Walking in My Sleep," a sultry, jazzy number in which Larkin reminds us what a sober Amy Winehouse may be capable of doing. But too many times Larkin seems unable to stop her engineering self. A voice such as hers is meant to be at the forefront, not hiding behind technical wizardry.
Patty Larkin is a wildly talented, creative musician. That is readily apparent here. She is simply too innovative and curious to maintain the folkie label. This is her attempt to break out of it. In that respect, Watch the Sky works, much like Suzanne Vega used 99.9 F to break her folkie chains. 99.9 F was an uneven album, but Vega recently recorded her best work in Beauty and Crime, in which she was able to harness her electronica cravings. Larkin, with all her talents, is sure to reach that place as well.