Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore fully collaborate as adopted Californians
I first became aware of the musical partnership of singer and guitarist Meg Baird and harpist Mary Lattimore back in 2011, when the latter provided ethereal arpeggios behind the gentle coo of the former at a spellbindingly gorgeous concert at the Hideout. I'd already been a huge fan of Baird through her work in Espers, various collaborations with British singer Sharon Kraus, and her own solo efforts, but Lattimore was a relatively new name for me. She'd participated in Thurston Moore's excursion into post-folk terrain on Demolished Thoughts earlier that year, but it was a revelation hearing her with Baird. Since then they both left Philadelphia, where each got their starts: Baird decamped to San Francisco and more recently Lattimore moved to Los Angeles. Lattimore has been involved with a variety of disparate projects ever since--including Hundreds of Days (Ghostly International), a lovely collection of atmospheric drift, where her instrument swims in gentle, complementary waves of synthetic sound--and a couple of years ago Baird proved that her delicate voice could thrive within the coruscating psychedelic guitars in Heron Oblivion, for which she also drums.
Last week they finally dropped a collaborative album that only reinforces their natural rapport, joining forces to meld ethereal psych-folk and haunted ambience. As much as I have enjoyed Lattimore's solo work I think she's a natural accompanist. She does much more than accompany Baird on the gorgeous new Ghost Forests (Three Lobed), especially on the instrumental opener "Between Two Worlds," where her a mixture of fractured arpeggios, pulsing repetitions, and upper register explorations are overdubbed with Baird's rangy electric guitar probes, minimal organ stabs, and curdling vibrato-rich tones, that all coalesce into a whirring climax that leaves you practically where you started--except if feels like you've sped through the solar system. It's here that Lattimore's impact transcends her actual instrumental roll, as her aesthetic has seemingly loosened up Baird to investigate unfolding sound with greater patience and curiosity.
The remaining five pieces evoke a more expected psych-folk vibe, where Baird's stunning voice has never sounded more effective, but the mewling, billowing arrangements reflect Lattimore's multi-tiered support. Baird's work in Heron Oblivion has situated that dreamy presence within a high-volume assault from which it seems impervious, maintaining its vulnerability yet surrendering nothing. Here Baird sounds more naked, even when limned with her own delicate harmonizing, but on song like "Damaged Sunset"--a kind of pastoral hallucination of a lost soldier wending his way through the countryside with a kind of Heart of Darkness fever--the carefully modulated keyboard pulsations behind the singer's acid-kissed guitar masterfully control the tone, retaining a weary serenity. Lattimore returns to harp on "In Cedars," a gorgeous meditation where Baird's multi-tracked harmonies almost feel wordless in the end through meticulously layering and extended coos (you can check it out below). "Painter of Tygers" reminds me of the early days of LA's Paisley Underground, specifically that all-star Rainy Day record, although Baird and Lattimore push things much deeper into abstraction despite a stunningly beautiful melody. The close they album with a version of the traditional folk song "Fair Annie" modeled after a 1983 recording by New England folkie Beverly Woods. It's the most conventional piece on the record, but it hardly suffers on that count. The clarity and directness of the way Lattimore's sweet-toned plucking pivots around and pours into the spaces of Baird's arpeggios is hard to resist, but not as hard to resist as Baird's singing--both weightless and forceful. I've been basking in the beauty of this music for a couple of months now, but I'm almost more excited to think about what might come next from this pair.
Lisa Ullén & Torsten Muller, Into the Staring Town (Creative Sources)
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Soul of a Woman (Daptone)
Alvin Singleton, Shadows/After Fallen Crumbs/A Yellow Rose Petal (Elektra/Nonesuch)
Laurie Spiegel, The Expanding Universe (Unseen Worlds)
Andrea Belfi, Wege (Room 40)