Punk rock and folk have a few things in common: they both attract legions of "free spirits" who seem more than eager to put on the genre's uniform and avoid exploring their own style. And they both also attract musicians who feel that sincerity is enough to make good music.
It's gotten to the point where I cringe when handed a "folk" album. But there are times when I'm pleasantly surprised.
Larkin Grimm's newest album "Parplar" is anything but predictable or typical. Larkin is clearly her own animal, a persona on her own unique path that we are allowed brief glimpses into via her songs.
"Parplar" starts off with "They Were Wrong", a piece so spare and somber that there's no way you could mistake it for generic folk despite the instrumentation. The crucial element to this CD's success is variance. The first track is not a blueprint and you haven't heard a clue of what to expect next on the collection. To make sure you know this the second track is the (appropriately) galloping "Ride That Cyclone".
The basis of music here is "folk" at its broadest definition. The foundation may be americana but what's build on it, the end result, is not. Her force of personality and her one-of-a-kind voice guarantee that each song is special.
Grimm's voice is a strange thing. It can be straight forward (on the opener and the alchemical healing ode of "Anger in Your Liver"), breathless with raw sexuality ("Blond and Golden Johns"), harsh *almost* shrill ("Dominican Run"), that of a disturbed child ("Mina Minou") and of course grim.
Her vocal variation is matched by her musical palate. She is unafraid to pillage country and blue-grass but is also conversant in African-like rhythms and madrigals ("The Dip"). And whoever decided to include the occasional horn as counterpoint is a genius.
And the songs are cleverly, carefully arrange. They make sure you are constantly surprised but never jarred. Keeping "Hope for the Hopeless" as the closer is perfect, it has the feeling of "anti-overture".
Despite this variety of tone, story and sound Larkin is still clearly calling things up from the heart, her sincerity is never in doubt.
Over-all quite nice indeed, I could live with more unexpected delights like this one.