Across several albums and single recordings, Mary Lattimore has proven that a woman alone with a harp can be a powerful creative and emotional force. As a solo artist, Lattimore creates gorgeous soundscapes that collide the gentle mists of the ether with the dense dark matter of the cosmos. Her ear seems preternaturally attuned to the nuances of sound, with each note perfectly situated against a vast inviting expanse. It suggests the mocked yet occasionally useful adage that you should listen as much to the notes that aren’t there as the ones that are.
Such openness and attention to detail make Lattimore an ideal collaborator, and she’s worked with Mac McCaughan, Meg Baird, Kurt Vile, and Cody Yantis, among others. For West Kensington, Lattimore teamed up with her Los Angeles neighbor guitarist Paul Sukeena (who has done time in Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel Band) for an album that captures the sound of our fraught, awkward, yet oddly beautiful attempts at human connection.
The recordings were made while the pair were experiencing the COVID lockdowns of early 2020. And it would be easy to try to link the music the two created with the social, emotional, and psychic tumult we all experienced (and are continuing to experience, for that matter) during the height of the pandemic. But, really, this has always been Lattimore’s milieu—space and time, distance and proximity, beauty and despair, the magical and the mundane—deadly virus or otherwise.
In general, the tracks on West Kensington have a less composed and overall looser feel than Lattimore’s straight solo work, and this serves both players well. Most tracks clock in at around seven minutes, as the two take their time and see where an idea may take them. The leadoff track, “Million Dollar Hoagie,” pushes Lattimore on synthesizer to the fore while Sukeena’s controlled feedback functions as a dance partner of sorts for an arrhythmic waltz across the stars. Elsewhere on tracks such as “Flaming Cherries Jubilee at Antoine’s,” and “Garage Wine,” Lattimore’s famed harp playing takes center stage; her gentle plucking buoyed by Sukeena’s open-road guitar meanderings. The night sky looms large here: back porches, crickets, shadows from a single lamp illuminating curls of smoke from one source or another. These are musical conversations between friends, and they’re as intimate and subtly joyful as anything one could hope for when six feet was as close as we were allowed to get.