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Mary Lattimore, "Collected Pieces"

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cover imageModestly billed as a counterpart to last year’s At The Dam album, the prosaically titled Collected Pieces is quite a big and very pleasant surprise, as my expectation was that it would just be some outtakes and orphaned pieces of interest to serious fans only (an expectation that was only reinforced by the limited edition cassette format).  I suppose these six pieces are technically orphans of a sort, as they never made it onto any of Lattimore's formal albums, but it certainly was not because they were not good enough.  Rather, they all just surfaced as an erratic trickle of one-off self-released pieces on Bandcamp and Soundcloud.  That method of working definitely seems to suit Lattimore, as this "box of memories"/impressionist travelogue is at least as good as any of her actual albums and the gorgeous "Wawa By The Ocean" and "The Warm Shoulder" easily rank among her finest moments to date.

Ghostly International

There are lot of preconceptions that I have about what a harp album is likely to contain, but one thing that I never expected to encounter was a rippling, lushly beautiful tribute to the beloved hoagie-purveying convenience store Wawa.  Technically, I still have not encountered that, as the opening "Wawa By The Ocean" is more directly inspired by Mary's memories of trips to the beach town of Ship Bottom, NJ, but Wawa still amusingly sent her a prize pack when they found out about the song.  Being a harpist seems very lucrative sometimes.  As for the song itself, "Wawa" is quite a slow-burning and quiet stunner, unfolding a lovely bittersweet melody over a beautiful descending progression of arpeggios.  While the composition itself is quite wonderful, Lattimore's subtly escalating use of effects gradually transforms the piece into an exquisitely layered dreamscape of shimmering afterimages, undulating hazes of overlapping notes, and gently hallucinatory delay.  It is quite an impressive achievement indeed, as the piece does not evolve so much as seamlessly dissolve into heavenly soft-focus unreality.  Naturally, that makes "Wawa" an impossible act to follow, but Mary doubles down with the even longer "Bold Rides."  Initially, that elegiac piece sounds like fairly standard Lattimore fare (which is just fine), but eventually a new vibrato-heavy and zither-like motif blossoms in the upper registers that makes me feel like I just time-traveled back to an imperial Chinese court.  Though it is somewhat less successful than its predecessor due to its lack of a central heart-grabbing melody, "Bold Rides" follows a very similar trajectory, as the various layers gradually start to deliriously bleed together and tumble all over one another.  In fact, "Bold Rides" ultimately takes that processing even further, eventually reversing and transforming one layer into chirping abstraction.

The next piece takes a languorous trip to Twin Peaks, as the brief and hazily rippling "We Just Found Out She Died" pays tribute to The Log Lady (Margaret Lanterman passed away soon after Lattimore saw her speak).  The evocatively titled "It Was Late And We Watched The Hotel Burn" is yet another major piece, eschewing conventional structure for bleary, hallucinatory ambiance, weaving a distorted tapestry of backwards melodies, plinking and overlapping cascades of arpeggios, and an undercurrent of blown-speaker rumble and snarl.  The following "The Warm Shoulder" (inspired by a cannibalism-themed joke, naturally) unexpectedly distills the best aspects of "Wawa" and "Bold Rides" into one concise and perfectly chiseled piece, lazily unfolding a beautiful melody over a delicate tapestry of arpeggios, then gradually embellishing it with more exotic zitherisms and subtly psychotropic layers of haze and delay.  The album then winds to a close with soft-focus reverie "Your Glossy Camry," which initially seems like a pleasant and lazily undulating soundscape of pointillist arpeggios before unexpectedly blossoming into a lovely and tender solo.  While it is not the strongest piece on the album, it makes an absolutely perfect coda as it gradually pares down to an unexpected level of quiet intimacy (it feels like every little pick and scrape is amplified and nakedly audible by the end).

The most withering critique that I can muster of Collected Works is merely that "We Just Found Out She Died" is a bit underwhelming and that a few of the longer pieces could have benefited from more aggressive editing.  Of course, the counterargument for the latter is that the longer pieces all tend to undergo a striking transformation at some point, which is a compositional tactic that often benefits from the length of the journey.  Bringing up perceived flaws is kind of beside the point here anyway, as it is hard to be disappointed that a compilation of unreleased material falls just shy of perfection.  For the most part, Collected Pieces is a genuine revelation.  I admittedly have a tendency towards hyperbole sometimes, but a piece like "Wawa By The Ocean" manages to elicit an almost childlike level of joy and wonder in me, as Lattimore is able to craft something of guileless, simple, and heartfelt beauty, yet still manages to imbue it with enough depth, experimentation, and subtly unreality to overcome my jaded aversion to prettiness.  I could probably also go on all day about Lattimore's knack for affecting melodies and genius for transcending the constraints of the harp's limited palette, but the real magic of her best work lies in the refreshing, clear-eyed purity of her vision: while Lattimore admittedly employs a healthy arsenal of studio effects, that artifice generally tends to be in service of a strong, focused melodic hook presented with elegantly uncluttered accompaniment and she hits the mark with uncanny regularity here.  I think this might actually be my favorite Mary Lattimore album.



Last Updated on Sunday, 07 May 2017 21:46  


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