For a couple of years I worked as a booker at a rehearsal studio cum venue, where we would host acoustic acts on a Saturday night. I soon learned there's a particular kind of acoustic music people flock out to see on a Saturday night – and it's not the kind of music I tend to enjoy. Upbeat, bluesy, rootsy stuff, with proficient musicianship and singalong bits, gets people out drinking and dancing on a Saturday night – which was my job, really – but the music itself bores me rigid. The few interesting acts I found (such as the staggering Alkali Fly), I couldn't book on a regular basis because they were too introspective, fragile and downbeat. Meg Baird's spectral folk music is in this vein. Earnest, unsullied, and occasionally very beautiful, it invites close listening and deep engagement – but can float past unheeded if you're not tuned into its subtle, autumnal flavours.
Having released four albums with psych-folk band Espers, along with two previous solo albums, Baird is a commanding singer-songwriter, projecting her compositions with conviction, while allowing a wavering vulnerability into her voice. Most of these songs are built from strong, resonant, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and Baird's high, keen vocal, with additional instrumental colour from electric guitar, organ, piano, bass and percussion played by Baird and her partner Charlie Saufley.
The album cover immediately brings to mind Joni Mitchell's Blue, which is a bit of a red herring – Baird looks serious and a little haunted. A closer comparison is probably Nick Drake at his most minimal and deathly (circa Pink Moon, perhaps), though Baird's compositions rarely approach Drake's in depth or complexity (whose do, really?).
Don't Weigh Down the Light (great title) is certainly lovely, and its tone is affecting, but for the spell to be sustained over the course of an album, I can't help feeling like the songs need to spark off each other more than they do here. Or perhaps this just feels like an album from an earlier, less distracted time?
Don't Weigh Down the Light is available from Drag City in LP, CD, mp3s and FLAC formats from 23rd June.