'Sooner or later the good and the bad / All end up being just times that we had," sings Patty Larkin on Still Green, an album written in the wake of her parents' deaths. "The sun went away and it ain't coming back / It would be a shame if you forgot how to laugh."
Still Green is a poignant work about being present and understanding what's important even while embracing what's passed. Released last September, it ranges from the warm West Coast folk drift of "It Could Be Worse," with its lament for "all of the hours lost in sand dollar towers," to the mournful strum of "Soon as I'm Better," where she promises "I'll be funny, soon as I'm able to laugh alone."
A number of the songs were written five years ago when her mother died of cancer, but Larkin wasn't yet ready to release them. After her father passed 18 months ago, she spent the next year readying the album.
"Some of the songs, as I started to tape them, I could only record them three times because it brought it all back and I thought, 'I have to wait until I can sing the darn things,'" says the veteran Boston folkie with a gentle chuckle.
Even now, some haven't made it onstage. "There's a couple I'm only starting to sing again. I'm like, 'OK, I'm finally distancing myself from the writing of it to be able to sing it out."
At the time of her mother's death, Larkin was in the midst of recording an album featuring 25 of her love songs, recorded acoustically with numerous guests, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her debut album. Her mother's cancer was misdiagnosed and she passed away three months later.
For Larkin, recording tracks for 25 with old friends like John Gorka, David Wilcox and Suzanne Vega, and then going out to tour behind the 2010 release, provided some relief from the crush of emotion.
"That was right around the most intense time for me, and that really helped me out," says the singer-songwriter. "It's so painful, but there's such a depth to it. It doesn't get much more real. So you go deeper with the person that's passing but also deeper with those around you. You start noticing things, synchronicities in your life which, when you were whirling through with your iPhones on, you don't really notice. It's a semi-religious experience."
Since Still Green's release, the folksinger has finished recording six more songs from that period. Those will have to wait, though, as she works on an album of instrumentals. The Berklee College of Music graduate's skilled, jazzy guitar playing has always been a distinctive part of her sound.
Meanwhile, Larkin's thankful for where she's at, both personally and professionally.
"The acoustic music scene is very much living-room-based, and it's storytelling and personal," she says. "It's like an expanded version of talking to your family or friends. I'm not going to put on a gown or a tuxedo and go on a huge stage and play something as perfectly as possible. It's much more human than that."