When harpist and composer Mary Lattimore opens for Beach House at The Met Philadelphia on July 23, the one-time local will continue the homecoming process that commenced with the release of her newest album, ‘West Kensington’.
Recorded as improvisations with fellow former Kensington neighbors, Paul Sukeena and Nicky Devine, Lattimore’s new studio album features a warm homespun ambience and sentimentalism that is hard to pin down, but impossible to ignore.
“Each of these tracks were completely improvised in Mary’s living room,” wrote Sukeena as part of the press legend of ‘West Kensington’. “We had no set ideas entering into it and had no specific ideas during overdubs. We accidentally caught our moods at the time, inner monologues of the moment.”
Lattimore — known for trekking from gigs to rehearsals to studio sessions on bike with her harp tied to her shoulders — has travelled the country, moving from Asheville, North Carolina, to Philadelphia, then to Los Angeles, where she lives presently. In 2014, Lattimore got paid to travel, receiving as she did a Pew Fellowship grant, moving between Texas and California and creating an album, ‘At the Dam’, based on Joan Didiion’s essay about the Hoover Dam in her 1979 book, ‘The White Album’.
“I played with the high school orchestra, the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra — getting into playing classical music but listening to a lot of The Cure and R.E.M.,” Lattimore told The Fader Magazine. “Then I went to music school for classical harp performance. It gave me a foundation for what I do now technically: how to hold my hands the right way, how to play really fast, how to play emotively and sensitively. And then I moved to Philly in 2005 and started playing on other people’s records. I was slow to learn how to improvise. I had to do some unlearning from my classical music background in order to be free enough. There are no wrong notes, basically.”
No wrong notes certainly describe the ease, weariness and freedom — and dedication to the intimacy of home — of ‘West Kensington’.
Recorded during the top of COVID’s close down, everything from ‘Dreaming of the Kelly Pool’ (in Philly’s Fairmount Park) to ‘Hundred Dollar Hoagie’ (Philly’s favorite cold sandwich), radiates camaraderie, along with a vibe similar to that which influenced David Lynch when he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
“Philadelphia is horrible, but in a very interesting way,” said Lynch of his school days. “There were places there that had been allowed to decay, where there was so much fear and crime that just for a moment there was an opening to another world. It was fear, but it was so strong, and so magical, like a magnet….”
Bringing it all back home for the one-time Philadelphians, Lattimore wrote in the album’s press legend that “This record is special to me because it captures a time when Paul and Nicky and I were neighbors once again, keeping each other sane in a really dark, strange time.”
For more on Mary Lattimore, visit marylattimore.net