I don’t know Mary Lattimore, but we share a number of friends in common (most notably my old friend Jeff Ziegler who she performs with). It’s kept her in my mind over the years, and I’ve been steadily following her career. Being one of the few well know harp players working today, she probably doesn’t need much introduction. Mary’s been around for years. I can’t remember where I first encountered her, but it was probably when she was a member of The Valerie Project during the middle 2000’s. Since their dissolution, she’s spent most of her career contributing to and enhancing other people’s records (Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn, and Meg Baird, among many others). It wasn’t until a few years ago that projects under her own name started to emerge. I welcomed them with open arms.


Mary Lattimore ‎– At The Dam

Mary Lattimore ‎– At The Dam (2016)

Not long after Mary’s first solo release, I heard through the grapevine that she had started working with my old friend Jeff. I kept tabs on their activities and was thrilled when their first record entered the world on Thrill Jockey. I read the reviews brimming with pride, and at some point came across a list of harp records that someone put together as “further listening” to their record. Though I can’t remember its exact contents (Dorothy Ashby, Alice Coltrane, Joanna Newsom, etc) it struck me as one of the least inspiring record lists I’d ever seen. There was nothing wrong with the chosen records, I’m pretty sure I owned them all, but they existed in such common knowledge that it seemed like the author was generating content rather than offering insight. I resolved to put my own list together as an antidote, but time got the better of me and it never happened. Mary’s got a new solo record out which is beautiful. I’ve got more time on my hands, and it feels like the moment is right.

My Great-Grandmother was a classically trained harpist. I remember being fascinated by her instrument when visiting her as child. The memory of running my hands along its strings has remained with me through the years. I envy anyone who can play it, secretly wishing that I had learned. The harp is far from fashionable, but in the right hands nothing can touch the tapestry it weaves. Though they are few and far between, over the years I’ve been collecting albums which feature it’s beautiful tones. Here are some of my favorites. I dedicate the grouping to Mary who’s done what might seem impossible, keeping this ancient instrument fresh in our minds.



Joel Andrews ‎– The Violet Flame (1977)

The Violet Flame is Joel Andrew’s third album. Technically it’s a spiritual New Age record, but it goes a long way to defy the cliches usually associated with that genre. Andrews got his start playing 20th Century classical music, something that clearly had lasting effect on his sensibility. His tonal and rhythmic relationships are embedded with an intricate complexity that are beyond the instrument’s intuitive resting point. Of all the albums on this list, I return to The Violet Flame the most. It’s incredibly sparse, displaying deconstructed melodies which give way to the careful articulation of each note. His unaccompanied harp feels like a foil. If the work was transcribed for any other instrument it would rest within any number of avant-garde traditions. It’s absolutely brilliant and highly recommended.


Joel Andrews ‎– The Violet Flame (1977)



Susan Allen ‎– New Music For Harp (1982)

Susan Allen was a disciple of Boulez and a fierce advocate for the use of her instrument in avant-garde and improvised music. Because there was so little music to her taste written for the harp during the 20th century, she commissioned over two hundred works for it over the course of her lifetime, broadly expanding the cannon. New Music For Harp is her first recording. It’s brilliant and takes your ears to places that they rarely go. It’s pretty easy to find, and when was the last time you heard a John Cage work for harp? It’s worth it for that alone.



Anne LeBaron / LaDonna Smith / Davey Williams ‎– Jewels (1979)

This is an ensemble record lead by the avant-garde harpist Anne LeBaron. LeBaron is a fascinating figure. She bridges the territories between Classical Music and Free-Jazz elegantly. She studied with Kagel and Ligeti and has collaborated in ensembles with Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, Evan Parker, George Lewis, Derek Bailey, Leroy Jenkins, Lionel Hampton, and Shelley Hirsch, among many others. Within the diverse applications of her instrument, I can think of no one with a similar attack. Jewels is pretty out there. The ensemble’s instruments scrape and grind into each other weaving an incredibly textured sonic landscape. The best way to describe it is if Derek Bailey played the harp and was joined in the studio by two clones. It’s unlike anything else I can call to mind.



Carol Kleyn ‎– Love Has Made Me Stronger (1976)

Carol Kleyn was the girlfriend of Bobby Brown (whose bizarre private press masterpieces became the stuff of legend after receiving high praise in The Acid Archives). Love Has Made Me Stronger is a beautiful, quirky folk record with traces of the avant-garde. It strays into some of the territory later occupied by Joanna Newsom, but where I’ve always had trouble trusting the later (finding her a bit affected and twee), Kleyn feels entirely sincere in a way that quirky outsiders  often do. If there are failures, she makes them her strengths. Her two primary documents were reissued by Drag City a few years back, but received little notice. In my view it’s worth tracking down the originals. They’re pretty cheap and (like Bobby Brown’s) each copy is signed and often accompanied with a personal message. In my view this is one of the great documents of the harp in folk traditions.


Carol Kleyn ‎– Love Has Made Me Stronger (1976)



Georgia Kelly ‎– Seapeace (Music For Harp)  (1978)

Georgia Kelly’s Seapeace is pretty solidly grounded in New Age. It’s the true token of the movement on this list – hitting all the washy cliches. It still manages to capture my heart. Maybe sometimes you just have to let go. This is one of those records that you’d expect to hear in crystal shop as the dream catchers sway in the breeze. It’s beautiful, spacey and a touch cheesy.  I don’t have the words for why I like it. I’ll leave you to listen and find your own.


Georgia Kelly ‎– Seapeace  (1978)



Gail Laughton ‎– Harps Of The Ancient Temples (1969)

Gail Laughton was a classically trained harpist who played in the Oklahoma City Symphony, but spent most of his life working on soundtracks for Hollywood films. This is the only effort under his own name. I’m not entirely sure how to categorize it. It’s a strange one. Harps Of The Ancient Temples is Laughton’s conceptual imagining of harp music in the ancient world. Each track is dated and located within a lost civilization. Despite the conceit, the works feel totally rooted in the twentieth century. Ancient music has little presence beyond being a departure point. Laughton’s works are complex and beautiful, shifting between aggressive atonality and beautiful harmony. You’ve probably unknowingly heard it before. Ridley Scott used parts of the album in the soundtrack of Blade Runner.


Gail Laughton Babylon 1500 B.C. (1969)


Gail Laughton – Hebrews 425 A.D (1969)



Raul Lovisoni / Francesco Messina ‎– Prati Bagnati Del Monte Analogo (1979)

Raul Lovisoni and Francesco Messina’s Prati Bagnati Del Monte Analogo
was originally released on Cramps. As with most of the label’s catalog, it’s legendary. Until a couple of years ago, when it was reissued by Die Schachtel, it was impossible to find. I thought the edition would instantly sell out. To my shock, I still see copies gathering dust in the bins. Most people must not know what they are missing. Prati Bagnati Del Monte Analogo was produced by Franco Battiato, and sits wonderfully with his minimalist works from this period. The album draws its inspiration from René Daumal’s Le Mont Analogue (which is fantastic if you haven’t read it).  Oddly, where a number of the albums on this list are associated with New Age, but have little relationship to the movement, this album is associated with the avant-garde and sounds a lot like New Age. It’s a melodic masterpiece of Italian Minimalism, and one of the most beautiful harp records I can think of.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Raul Lovisoni / Francesco MessinaHula Om (1969)

-Bradford Bailey


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