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Meg Baird - Dear Companion

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Artist: Meg Baird

Album: Dear Companion

Label: Drag City

Review date: Jun. 1, 2007

The artists considered to be doing the most interesting things with folk music recently have brought to the form a very pronounced experimental streak, whether it be Joanna Newsom’s orchestral tonal fairy tales, Ben Chasney’s Kottke worshipping drones, or any number of other prog troubadours. With that in mind, Meg Baird’s solo debut for Drag City – consisting of a set of simple, traditionally minded folk songs – is oddly disarming. Baird is perhaps best known for her work with Philadelphia pastoral psych collective Espers, and if you’re only familiar with Baird’s haunting vocals amidst that group’s moody clatter, hearing her lovely voice accompanied by nothing more than simple acoustic instrumentation is equally enchanting.

Dear Companion isn’t a one-off genre excursion, however, as Baird is no stranger to the classic folk tradition. She’s made several albums with her sister Laura as the Baird Sisters, and one stunning long-player with Sharron Kraus and Helena Espvall last year for the Bo’Weavil label. While those recordings contain a slight experimental touch; their high lonesome harmonies are dripping with bucolic loveliness. On Dear Companion, Baird indulges this aspect of her artistry further, crafting an album endearing in its beauty, ease and quiet emotional resonance.

Dulcimer, acoustic guitar, and mandolin provide the instrumental foundation for a set that includes numbers from ‘60s folkies Fraser and Debolt (“Waltz of the Tennis Player”), a New Riders of the Purple Sage tune (“All I Ever Wanted”), and one track (“Do What You Gotta Do”) penned by Jimmy Webb and perhaps best known as a Roberta Flack song. Baird’s reading of those songs, as well as her two originals (“Riverhouse In Tinicum” and “Maiden In The Moor Lay”), renders them as organic sounding as any of the traditional numbers, which she handles with the skill of a player who has done her research. Baird doesn’t break any new ground, at least in a purely sonic sense, but her voice alone is more than enough. (See the album closing a capella version of the title track to get a taste of it at its most lovely and unfettered.)

As traditional as much of the album is, however, there’s a certain lack of parochialism here that gives it a subtle artistic heft. It’s nice to have records like this being released in the underground, as they remind one what the true draw of Folk Music, or just plain folk music for that matter, is: the simple notion that songs are there to be played and to be sung. Baird does just that and needs do nothing more.

By Nate Knaebel

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