"La Guitara: Gender Bending Strings"


When people talked about Patty Larkin, they always praised her singing and songwriting but rarely mentioned her guitar playing, which is the most impressive part of her music. Listeners, it seemed, carried an unconscious assumption that women can excel as singer-songwriters but not as guitarists. It wouldn't be enough to argue the point, Larkin realized; what was needed was some evidence. So the Berklee-trained musician compiled an anthology of 14 brilliant guitar performances by women and released it as "La Guitara: Gender Bending Strings."

The CD ranges far beyond the folk-based acoustic-guitar picking associated with Larkin. It begins with Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man and classical guitarist Sharon Isbin and goes on to include fluid jazz soloist Mimi Fox, Brazilian star Badi Assad, 1930s blues legend Memphis Minnie and Michael Jackson's electric guitarist, Jennifer Batten. Some names are well known -- Muriel Anderson was the first woman to win the National Fingerpicking Guitar Championship, while Rory Block has more than 20 albums to her credit -- but two young women, Alex Houghton and Vicki Genfan, are being introduced to a broader audience for the first time.

There are no distracting lyrics on the album (though there is some scat singing), and all the tracks have been previously released except for new recordings by Larkin and Genfan. More impressive than the flawless performances within established genres are the few instances when these guitarists are breaking new ground. New York's Kaki King and Ottawa's Houghton both combine percussive tapping and hammering on the strings, prominent bass parts, pulsing motifs and sparkling melodic interludes to create unusual compositions. And blues veteran Ellen McIlwaine plays Indian ragas on slide guitar in a way that fuses the two genres into a new hybrid.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Patty Larkin, Kaki King, Muriel Anderson and Mimi Fox appear Tuesday and Wednesday at the Barns of Wolf Trap, Nov. 9 at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts in Owings Mills and Nov. 10 at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis.

Patty Larkin and other female pickers shine on "La Guitara."