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Armed with a kiddie electric guitar and an imaginary violin, Patty Larkin and her partner’s two kids imagine drowning in the spotlight, moving around the living room in their Cape Cod crib like it’s Madison Square Garden.
“We just decided that it would be a good thing for us to all learn some family songs so we could sit and sing,” Larkin says, continuing with a laugh: “They mostly just like to pose and pretend like they’re rock stars.”
When Larkin, whose potpourri-like album “Watch the Sky” was released in January, was a kid, piano playing became a staple of visits to her grandmothers’ homes – where they would sing Irish-American songs, early-20th-century Tin Pan Alley music and more traditional classics like “You Are My Sunshine.”
More than 20 years have passed since her debut, and the humble 56-year-old, who will play in Ann Arbor at 8 p.m. March 22 at The Ark, has upgraded from sleepy-time lullabies, using her alto – and her family’s encouragement for her to become fully immersed in her music – over lush, grab-bag arrangements, all produced, performed and written by Larkin. Help from her partner and longtime musical guide, Bette Warner, who served as production assistant and ruler-raising teacher on the latest album, helped push the project – and Larkin – along.
“She has really high standards,” Larkin says, before breaking into laughter. “It’s good that somebody does.”
Warner consistently stays on target with the mission, while Larkin, who plays every instrument from the acoustic guitar to door chimes, is easily swayed to drop an idea and move onto the next. It makes for a perfect partnership professionally and, with weekly meetings, personally, she says.
Touring is tricky, though.
“One thing that really happened with our first little one is that I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I toured. I didn’t care if I wrote. It was more, ‘Wow, I just got hit with a big heart,’ so that changed everything,” she says. “And as your whole life refocuses and everything falls into place in a different order, it took me a couple of years, really, to get back to me again. I wanted to be home … . And I still do. It’s hard to leave them.”
Which helps explains the five-year gap between “Watch the Sky,” Larkin’s 11th sonically-varied studio album (on her iPod at the time: Bjoerk, string quartets and Beck), and its predecessor, “Red = Luck.”
“It’s really great. What’s also great is childcare,” she laughs, adding that this was the first time in a couple of years that the couple got full-time help. During her hiatus, she worked on 2005’s chicks-with-guitar compilation “La Guitara,” but she craved more: “I needed to get something out for myself.”
She managed to get her creative juices in gear after dinner, and attempted writing way too early in the morning – at a ridiculous, but ceaseless, 3 or 4 – which sounded like a wise idea at the time, but “apparently not. I like my sleep.”
Once nanny help arrived, Larkin saved her mornings, which she’d use to do household chores instead of write, to pen lyrics in her friend’s studio-boasting barn. It helped her ignore the laundry, and the cleaning, and every other distraction that stole her away from composing ghost-inspired “Walking in My Sleep,” tranquil lullaby “Here” and the ueber-personal “Hallelujah.”
The winsome coming-out hurrah starts with, “They told me this was crazy/They told me expect the worst,” but by the chorus, Larkin was stuck. “I really wasn’t sure what the song was about,” she says. “Then I realized kind of – I know what this is about. It’s about losing your religion, I suppose, but also becoming more human in the process, perhaps, and more real, and accepting the fact that who you are is OK.”
Not like she could hide, anyhow. As her children grow older (they’re now 3 and 6 years old), questions inevitably pop about why they have two moms – and no dad. “We talked to our girls about it. They would rather have a mom and a dad, but the older one said that, ‘I love you both,’ and we’re like, ‘OK, well that’s kind of – we’re different. That’s gonna be us,'” she pauses for a split second, laughing. “‘And good luck!'”
Doesn’t sound like they’ll need it.
8 p.m. March 22
The Ark, Ann Arbor