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Friday, 9 September 2011

Record Review – Meg Baird 'Seasons On Earth'

Seasons on Earth
Drag City 

New Jersey native Baird is a member of the fertile Philadelphia acid folk scene that includes Sharron Kraus, Helena Espvall, Greg Weeks, Fursaxa, and Fern Knight (she recorded an album with the first two and is in Espers with Espvall and Weeks). Seasons On Earth (not to be confused with Shindig! writer Jeanette Leech’s bible on acid and psychedelic folk, Seasons They Change) is Baird’s follow-up to her 2007 debut solo album, Dear Companion, although this time she wrote most of the material herself. ‘Babylon’ opens in a warm, acoustic setting, like a strolling minstrel singing love songs under your window at night. With the false start and off-mic remark at the beginning of ‘Stars Climb Up The Vine’ it’s clear that we’re in for a very relaxed listening session. The songs unravel slowly – half the tracks top six minutes – allowing Baird the opportunity to let her fingers and mind wander aimlessly, pausing here and there for a stray lyric or a subtle chord change.

The recordings are so close you feel like you are sitting in the living room a few feet away from Baird as she whisper-sings her tender folk ballads. The rolling slide guitar on ‘Share’ and ‘The Finder’ is straight out of Sweethearts Of The Rodeo, but this is not Ronstadt or Emmylou tripping the light fantastic by attempting to add their voices to the acid-folk canon. Baird’s vocals float effortlessly around the room, with the occasional harmony thickening the sound – like molasses slowly enveloping the listener.
True, some of the songs sound alike, such that the transition from one to the next is indiscernible (the Nick Drake-ish ‘Even Rain’ beautifully segues into ‘Friends’ such that the two songs almost become one), so Baird wisely tosses in a few covers to break up the (mono)tone. And what selections they are: in addition to the aforementioned ‘Friends’ from Mark-Almond’s second album, there’s an unrecognisably intimate reading of House Of Love’s ‘Beatles And The Stones’ that uncovers new meanings in Guy Chadwick’s lyrics, particularly as sung from a woman’s standpoint. Baird makes the song her own, and one can imagine the impact these disparate groups had on her decision to become a musician.

Like the passing of the seasons that inspired the title, the album flows by slowly and you may find your own mind wandering through your musical library, hearing Baird’s inspirations for these songs – from the gentle folk of Drake, Jansch, and Jackson C. Brown through to the more traditional British folk efforts of Trees, Pentangle, and Fairport. And if you close your eyes and imagine you’re hearing a long, lost tale from Celia, Jacqui, or Sandy floating on the wind, then you’ll agree that this is one of the best “female” folk albums you’ve experienced in a long time.
Jeff Penczak

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