Record Review - 1 March 19 2003

Now that Grammy voters have officially declared the commercial waters safe for earnest, dulcet-voiced females (Norah Jones), introspective singer/songwriters (John Mayer) and 9-11 ruminations (Springsteen), Patty Larkin oughta be strolling down from the podium with a handful of statues next year.

On her 10th album, the veteran Boston folkie expands her scope musically and lyrically, adding modest world rhythms as subtle threads woven through these thought- provoking tunes. Written in several marathon sessions, Red=Luck (at least it does in Chinese culture) is a musical song cycle focusing on a protagonist — who might be Larkin — trying to understand life and find love in a world dominated by fear, loathing and suspicion.

It's a weightier approach than that of either Jones or Mayer — especially when Larkin strips down to dissonant acoustic guitar on "Home" and "Normal," two wrenching cuts that stop the album in its tracks. Thankfully, the sing-along choruses of "Different World," "24/7/365" and "Inside Your Painting" provide sufficient radio-ready fodder. And edgy loop-enhanced percussion helps Larkin expand out of her girl-with-guitar genre.

Red=Luck seldom topples under its own philosophical weight. The practically wordless "Louder" — featuring 17 musicians, incorporates Celtic, Moroccan, rockabilly and Indian strains all within less than three minutes — makes for a powerful closing statement.

Patty Larkin plays the Red Light Cafe Fri., March 21.