23 Jul 2015

Meg Baird "Don’t Weigh Down the Light"

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Ah, a new release from airy folk bard Meg Baird (Espers), who has recorded some of the most gorgeous folk I've heard in the past decade. Hearkening back to talents such as the late, great Sandy Denny and her sister in song, Maddy Prior, you can’t go wrong with music of this ilk. Recorded after a geographical change in Meg’s life, moving her from the Philly area to San Francisco. Given Meg’s predilection for psychedelic musical turns, I’d say she’s in the right place. Her voice soars easily to the highest heights even while dipping into alto valleys, and her double-tracked harmonies expand her sonic palette even further. Her acoustic guitar and piano are accompanied by longtime collaborator Charlie Saufley on guitar.

As with any Meg Baird record, you can expect beautifully sung, exquisitely wrought songs, tunes that show glimmers and fleeting moments of life, airy and light even while plumbing deep wells of emotion. “Past Houses” and its reprise are like pools of shade on a hot summer’s day, while the lovely, pastoral “Counterfeiters” almost reminds me of a speeded up Pink Floyd song. Her voice here is like delicate lace, lightly touching down between Charlie’s slide work and her own fingerpicking. She is both confident and reticent, putting her voice out there while she emotionally withdraws from the listener. Listen to “Stars Unwinding” as it inhabits your mind, and you may be reminded of old Pentangle tunes. The gorgeous “Mosquito Hawks” could be a great lost tune from Richard and Linda Thompson, and is possibly the best track among a string of superlative songs. Despite the solitary demeanor displayed on some of these songs, Meg sings and plays with a sureness born of great talent, perseverance, and patience. The waiting time between albums is long, and perhaps songs are slowly borne as life happens around her.

“Back to You” has an almost Renaissance feeling to it, and Meg’s voice here is plaintive and yearning. “Leaving Song” is a madrigal, and is far too short. I am fairly sure I could listen to an entire album of such angelic beauty. A minute is definitely not long enough! “Good Directions” is more complicated, sounding as though an Appalachian folk group rose out of the earth to accompany Meg on this tune. It has a fast pace, but you can’t quite dance a reel to this song. It certainly underscores how well these two musicians play together, and is another high mark on this release.

The soft, gentle title track, “Don’t Weigh Down the Light” is an early morning song for sitting on the porch with coffee in hand, enjoying the view of mist shrouding the surrounding hills. It maintains its thoughtful, mournful air throughout, before fading out to the sad breakup song that follows, “Even the Walls Don’t Want You to Go.” Its slightly atonal melody suits the subject matter, and at times, Meg’s backing vocal sounds horn-like. “Past Houses (Reprise)” finishes out the record, and makes me think of Neil Young in his After the Gold Rush days.

This lovely album is a must for all fans of English folk, Renaissance, and Appalachian roots music, or for those who like their folk somber, mystical and beautifully rendered.

Available on CD here (UK/EU), and here (US), and on vinyl here (UK/EU),or here (US).

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