Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore are both California transplants from the Philly indie scene where they worked separately with Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn, and Jack Rose, to name a few, as well as on Baird's Seasons on Earth in 2011. Despite being friends and crisscrossing musical paths for more than a decade, Ghost Forests marks the first time the two musicians have collaborated as a duo. The pair played together at Three Lobed's Hopscotch Festival in the mid-2010s, setting the stage for this recording.
Four of the six songs here were formally penned by the pair, but opener "Between Two Worlds" is an outlier. It arrived instinctively as the women were experimenting with sounds prior to recording -- or so they thought. Producer and engineer Thom Monahan had the tape rolling as the pair created instrumental magic from the ether. Over more than six minutes, plucked harp strings and subtle electronics meet fingerpicked, bowed and strummed guitars in a waft, and wend through gently manipulated drone space that eventually shifts in dynamic and intensity without ever running over into excess. Baird's vocals color the rest of this outing, but the instinctive meeting in the space between these two very individual voices creates a unified third evidenced by the haunted, eight-minute "Damaged Sunset." Folk drones and open tunings hover about the lyrics, embellished by spectral electronics and Lattimore's harp fills as Baird's lithe, airy voice offers a poetic tome of loss and absence: "…Set the towers on fire just to feel the space beyond/You won't rest again here…." "In Cedars" is a ghostly love song whose few words offer a centering, mantra-like space for circular yet elastic harp sounds and guitars. Baird's voice is as much an instrument as a narrative interlocutor's. "Painter of Tygers" is a deeply moving exercise in psych-folk. Gently introduced by Lattimore's assertive, distorted harp pattern, Baird's equally dirty yet almost unbearably gentle guitar picks it up in a different octave, as timbral shards, echoes, and implied melodies create a soundscape fit for her voice: "…Your name is like a secret if you whisper just close enough…." Closer "Fair Annie" is a traditional child ballad. Its inclusion here emerged from a version by folklorist, multi-instrumentalist, singer, and session musician Beverly Woods. Guided by Baird's fingerpicking guitar, Lattimore embellishes, shapes, and expands the reach of the tune across historical times and geography (physical and psychic). Baird's thin yet expressive soprano colors the margins and the message; it's impossible to tell if the song was written in the present or in antiquity and that's exactly the point: Within it, beauty and mystery resonate in perpetuity. At over 35 minutes, Ghost Forests offers listeners an expansive offering of the duo's strengths in improvisation, songwriting, and interpretation. Yet, for its considerable imagination and creativity, there is also an elegant restraint that allows listeners access to an interior world of sound and poetry perhaps previously unimagined.