The Dune Shacks of the Peaked Hill Bars Historic District, on the sand dunes of Cape Cod, Mass., have historically been a haven for artists and writers looking for isolation to work in. And now, at least one musician has joined the ranks.
This summer, folk singer-songwriter Patty Larkin joined the list of those who have lived and worked in the shacks, including Eugene O’Neill and Harry Kemp. During her stay, she wrote an extended suite dedicated to the landscape, “The Peaked Hill Suite,” and performed a benefit show for the Peaked Hill Trust — part of the deal for being allowed to use one of the three shacks open to artists (there are 19 overall).
Larkin wasn’t alone — she brought her family with her during her visit. Surrounded by the dunes, the ocean and the elements, she set to work writing instrumental pieces that will form the basis of her 11th studio album next year, her first of all-new material since 2008’s “Watch the Sky.”
with Rory Block
Where: The Eighth Step, GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
How Much: $35 (Gold Circle), $28
“I went out with my family — my partner and two little kids,” Larkin, who has been based in the Boston area for most of her career, said recently from a tour stop in Austin, Texas.
“They would go away and leave me there — the kids were in school for one of the trips out there. I’d have from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then I’d see them come up over the dunes in the distance, maybe half a mile away. . . . I think of it the way people used to live, really at the mercy of weather — you’re self-sufficient in a way; there’s water out there, you can watch the weather come in and go entertain yourself, or shield yourself depending on what’s going on. A lot of artists and writers have worked out there a lot, but not that many musicians. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it.”
Capital Region fans will get a sneak peek at this material, including the epic “The Peaked Hill Suite,” when Larkin returns to The Eighth Step in Proctors’ GE Theatre on Saturday night, her first performance at the venue since 2009. Albany-based blues singer and guitarist Rory Block will open the show — and most likely join Larkin for a few numbers.
The show comes on the heels of a celebratory album and tour marking Larkin’s 25th year in music, in 2010. That album, appropriately titled “25,” featured rerecordings of 25 love songs spanning her career, performed as duets with friends including Bruce Cockburn, Greg Brown, Lucy Kaplansky (who performed with her at Eighth Step in 2009), Janis Ian, Martin Sexton, Rosanne Cash, Chris Smither and Erin McKeown, to name a few.
“I’ve got all the new material, and some of the older stuff as reflected on ‘25,’ so I kind of dip into my repertoire,” Larkin said. “I’m working on the new record almost as we speak, so I’ll be playing some new songs, which is always fun.”
In 25 years of performing, Larkin has earned a reputation as an uncompromising songwriter, and a talented guitarist — in 2005 she produced “La Guitara: Gender Bending Strings,” a compilation featuring women guitarists of note, including Block. Born in Iowa and raised in Milwaukee, Larkin studied jazz guitar at Berklee College of Music in Boston before debuting in 1985 with “Step Into the Light.”
The songs on “25” don’t reach back quite that far — the oldest song on the album is the duet with Martin Sexton, “Lately,” from her 1987 sophomore effort “I’m Fine.”
Larkin decided to focus on her vocal performance for these rerecordings. Each track began with her unadorned acoustic guitar and vocal, and then each guest artist would add their parts.
“I really got into singing again, which is great,” she said. “And I also sort of had a sense of where I’d been, which you always do when you kind of go back into the songs. It’s refreshing.”
The recording process followed somewhat in the footsteps of “Watch the Sky,” on which Larkin kept things simple by playing all of the instruments herself. According to Larkin she hadn’t intended to record the album by herself, but during the demo process she began to consider it.
“I don’t tend to vary too much in the overall picture, so I like to have something, a new twist for the record, and that became the new twist,” she said. “Halfway through recording, my friend Ben Wittman came in and listened to some of the tracks, and at that point I decided to go for it. And at that point he could’ve jumped in and we could have started calling people quickly. But it became like a personal challenge to see what I could come up with, and by doing that I learned a ton.”
She’s now learning to use all new equipment in her home studio in preparation for the next, as-yet-untitled album. “I have more songs than I need, which is good and bad,” she said.
“What I’m thinking is it’ll be sort of a three-part album that has to do with being outdoors on Cape Cod, being out on the dunes of Cape Cod where they have these dune shacks. And some of it will be about the natural world, and some about sort of life cycles. That’s kind of where I’m working off of. . . . It’s an interesting time. I find, in the past as I begin to record and the album takes shape, the personality of the album takes shape as well.”