Described as her leaving record, the moment when Meg Baird gets to sing her, er, Leaving Song. But it’s a hoax, a wordless hymnal chant. Baird’s third solo album is full of detours, as one would expect from her time in Espers, a transcendental Philly troupe who tripped out with an almighty version of BÖC’s vein-shredding Flaming Telepaths. Poison in the bloodstream? Not so much here, more a transfusion of gorgeous, non-stop melody that rustles the air like an Appalachian mountain breeze.
Singer and songwriter Meg Baird takes her time between solo records. Her first offering, Dear Companion, was released between Espers' albums in 2007. Her second, Seasons on Earth, appeared in 2011, a year after the excellent covers set Leaves from Off the Tree with Sharron Kraus and Helena Espvall. Don't Weigh Down the Light follows after another four-year break, and is her first album since relocating to San Francisco from Philadelphia.
Former vocalist of the psychedelic folk band Espers, Meg Baird doesn’t seem to have sat still for long in the years since their last release, 2009’s III: she released her second solo album in 2011, the country-tinged Seasons On Earth; toured with the late Bert Jansch; worked with the likes of Kurt Vile, American Primitivist Glenn Jones and singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten; toured and recorded as drummer for Philadelphian garage punks Watery Love and founded a new psych-folk outfit – the fiery Heron Oblivion – alongside former members of Comets On Fire. After all of that, Don’t Weigh Down The Light, her third solo LP, could well have been a simple, pared-down affair, closer perhaps to the stark voice, guitar and dulcimer arrangements of her début set, Dear Companion, which was a mixture of original material, covers and traditional folk tunes recorded between Espers’ third and fourth albums. But Baird has instead crafted a collection of varied hue and texture.
After spending just over a decade in Philadelphia solidifying a commanding reputation as a member of psychedelic folk group Espers, as well as being a solo artist in her own right, Meg Baird has developed a dense, prolific catalogue. As a collaborator of Kurt Vile and Sharon Van Etten, the San Franciscan habitant bore witness and, in Van Etten’s case, had an influence in both musicians’ development into the fully realised personalities heard on record. Now with her third solo record, ‘Don’t Weigh Down The Light’, Baird joins her fellow collaborators in discovering her truest form, to a most haunting, scintillating effect.
Meg Baird's career has seldom lacked for action or variety; she co-founded the highly esteemed Philly psych-folk group Espers, has performed with her sister Laura as the Baird Sisters, played drums with noisy punk combo Watery Love, and sung alongside the likes of Kurt Vile, Will Oldham, and Sharon Van Etten. If she so chose, she surely has the skills and connections to make an expansive, cross-genre album studded with guest appearances, but she hasn't seemed interested in that. She has always kept her solo albums streamlined and direct, focusing her songs almost exclusively on her finger-picked guitar and radiant voice.
Some albums seem desperate to grab hold and never let go of the attention of the listener. They will try anything and everything to keep you from skipping off into the deep blue yonder of other music. The sense being that once you have been lost you might never return and that, if you only stayed still long enough, you would discover a beating heart of solid gold underneath all the attention seeking 'look at me, I’m amazing, can’t you tell?' behaviour.
It’s been awhile. No one does psych-folk with both elements quite so perfectly pitched and enmeshed, so it’s a relief to have Philadelphia luminary Meg Baird back with a remarkable new record to show ‘em how vital this careworn, 60s sort of thing can be. It bears mention that not all of these albums being reissued from the 60s and 70s are as special as they seem.
“Freak folk” never did justice to the decade-plus-old US project to reinhabit ancient song forms. There is little of the wild-eyed outsider artist to former Espers mainstay Meg Baird, originally based in Philadelphia, now of San Francisco. Her third solo album is unceasingly calm and atmospheric, Baird’s light, almost impressionistic vocal and finger-picking style augmented by additional guitars and a little unobtrusive percussion.
“And you thought your sad songs could save the light/Could weigh down the light just long enough to keep them,” sings Meg Baird in the title cut of this third solo album. Her breathy voice shudders, clears and turns luminous as it traces a serpentine melody, backed by the barest accompaniment of acoustic and electric guitar. And, yes, the song, like the rest on this wonderful album, does seem to catch a particular kind of light, hold it for a moment and then blow it gently onward.
What you’ve got with Meg Baird’s “Don’t Weigh Down the Light” is a true post-folk record, dyed in the acoustic sound of the English and Californian folk movements of the late 1960s and early ’70s, but not particularly scholarly or eccentric. It isn’t waving its hands around to make itself distinct or to signal an act of reclamation or defiance. It has its own grace and discipline.
Meg Baird — Don’t Weigh Down the Light (Drag City)Reviewing an album from Meg Baird can be an unenviable task. Her music plays into some familiar narratives. She emerged in the mid-00s, playing a folk-influenced style that sometimes made like rock itself never happened and also (via her work as a member of the band Espers) had a foothold in a more psychedelic scene.
You know about the big releases each week, but what about the smaller albums which may have passed underneath your radar? We’ve rounded up nine of the best new album releases from this week, from Ocar’s lo-fi pop to the glitchy electronica of Son Lux: don’t miss out..