Live Review: Mary Lattimore, Ana Roxanne, Philadelphia, PA, Nov. 29, 2021

Returning to the city where she composed so much of her music, harpist Mary Lattimore filled First Unitarian Church’s chilly sanctuary with sonic and conversational warmth, the metaphorical boost in temperature serving as a little souvenir of the nest she’s made in Los Angeles. Each instrumental bore a trace of the place where it was born, like the the way Lattimore tickled the high strings for the title track of 2020’s Silver Ladders, sparked on a cliff in Big Sur and recorded at Neil Halstead’s Cornwall, England, studio.

From the melancholy “On The Day You Saw The Dead Whale” to the shining, chiming “It Feels “Like Floating” (both from 2018’s Hundreds Of Days), Lattimore elicited complex emotions from the harp. “Otis Walks Into The Woods,” with its clomping and popping and playing with pitch, managed to be both the most discordant and the most meditative piece of the evening.

Playing “Til A Mermaid Drags You Under” (from 2020’s Silver Ladders) on her own for the first time, Lattimore made excellent use of dynamics, with bold strokes on the low end serving as the spine of the spacious piece. Though she was solo for most of the show, Lattimore brought up a special guest for “Wawa By The Ocean”: her former student Wilda, who started taking lessons at age five. Now 11, the protégée held her own on a smaller harp, contributing beautifully to the gentle piece.

Between compositions, Lattimore shared the observations and inspirations behind each, like the cannibal joke that informed “The Warm Shoulder,” and expressed the great joy she felt at finally getting to perform in the lovely sanctuary with so many friends in attendance.

For me, it was “For Scott Kelly, Returned To Earth” that struck the deepest chord, with its spacy pacing and rough re-entry of an ending. Recalling that when she wrote it in her Philly apartment years ago, Lattimore was thinking of how she felt to be recovering from a broken jaw while people around her talked and chewed gum like they were perfectly normal things to do, and what it must be like for an astronaut to readapt to gravity and society after nearly a year in space.

Revisiting it now, while we’re all finding our way back to live music at different speeds, Lattimore thinks of how strange it is to go to shows and our need to be social even as COVID continues to mutate, the innate weirdness of being with other humans at this point in the pandemic, and how we’re adjusting to life on a planet that may not have changed as dramatically in the past couple years as we have.

Ana Roxanne opened with dreamy, droney songs drawn from 2020’s Because Of A Flower, weaving a sonic tapestry from murmurs, incantations, sampled dialogue and bass guitar, with the occasional clang to startle listeners from the fugue state she summoned.

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich