After listening to Frances Quinlan’s debut solo album Likewise, which was released in January, you may find yourself humming the melody of one – probably more than one – of her songs. There is something catchy in her syncopated vocalization that is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell
And like Mitchell, the Philadelphia-based Quinlan is a gifted songwriter.
“Frances has a powerhouse voice and a really strong but vulnerable way of expressing herself,” says L.A.-based harpist Mary Lattimore, who performs with Quinlan at the Henry Miller Library on March 11.
This show marks the first time Quinlan will perform in Big Sur. For the intimate show, she plans to alternate between electric and acoustic guitars. Lattimore will join her on her 47-string Lyon and Healy grand pedal harp.
“I just love the sound,” Quinlan says. “I think it transports the listener.”
Quinlan first met Lattimore in Philadelphia when the harpist opened for her band, Hop Along. It was the first time Lattimore had played as a soloist and she connected with Quinlan almost instantly.
“We share that need to express ourselves in an individual way, but are both also really into collaboration,” Lattimore adds. “She’s got a great personal style and puts a lot of her personality into her songwriting.”
And Likewise is no doubt a deeply personal album. The cover features the face of a woman – original artwork by Quinlan that she says is something of a self-portrait – and many of the songs seem to center on people trying to be understood. Whether those stories are from Quinlan’s own life, however, is another matter.
“I try to keep that sense of, ‘be present in the times that I am living,’ even when the subject isn’t yourself,” Quinlan says.
One of Quinlan’s signature talents is the ability to shape her voice around the lyrics in ways that are both emotive and playful. As in the song “Detroit Lake”: “It turns out/ One can lose nonetheless/ Looking for witnesses/ miles away from all that’s between us at stake/ Algae blooms on Detroit Lake.”
If you find yourself humming to the melody of “Detroit Lake,” I recommend that you go back and listen to the lyrics – all of them. Because in that moment, you may realize that the good album you thought you were listening to is really a great one.
FRANCES QUINLAN and MARY LATTIMORE 7pm Wednesday, March 11. Henry Miller Memorial Library, 48603 Highway 1, Big Sur. $30. 667-2574, folkyeah.com.