Some artists emerge fully formed from the gate; others have to wait and see how their talents evolve. For some years now, Larkin Grimm, a singer/guitarist raised mostly in Appalachian Georgia who now roams about the country, has worked somewhere between those two descriptions: a compelling musician who has yet to make her breakthrough. This was partly due to her albums, which were quite enjoyable and showcased her obvious love and knowledge of various folk traditions with a sweeping theatricality and humor that seemed more Lene Lovich than Linda Thompson, but never quite equaled the sheer power of her live performances. Her set at the 2006 Terrastock festival in Rhode Island is still talked about with awe—and rightly so.
Grimm’s debut for Michael Gira’s Young God label redresses this balance in full. Totaling 15 songs, Parplar, recorded with the assistance of Gira and a number of guest performers, is still straight-up Grimm, with the opening song’s beautifully performed first lyric, “Who told you you’re going to be all right?/They were wrong,” setting the unsettled tone. This isn’t winsome never-neverland, but a cascade of fractured emotions and wit.
At its best, Grimm’s voice is an incredibly tactile instrument, captured here with an in-your-room atmosphere and marvelous overdubs. The dizzying spin through any number of styles—spooked-out country cabaret on “Ride That Cyclone,” bubbling keyboards and slide whistles on the title track, rapid scrapes and taps and near-Chipmunk-style singing on “Mina Minou”—rivals the twisted inventiveness of Tom Waits. It’s hard to pick out any one supreme moment on Parplar, but it might be this snippet from the barbed “Blond and Golden Johns”: “The men just come and go like flies” (sung with a preternatural sweetness, of course).
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