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Meg Baird – Dear Companion (2007)

Meg Baird – Dear Companion (2007)
Genre: Folk | MP3 VBR Avg. 235 kbps | 67 MB | 39 min.

Dear Companion is the debut solo release from Espers’ Meg Baird. Meg’s a founder of Espers and a principal songwriter therein, and it’s a real pleasure to hear her away from the heady (and excellent!) confines of the group – for as layered and heavy the sounds of Espers’ II is, Dear Companion is equally bare and ebullient.

Meg’s approach to the task was to take acoustic in hand and start singing songs she liked to sing – covers, trad numbers and even a few of her own for good measure – with a variety of stringed instruments such as guitar, banjo, and dulcimer.

And that’s really the record – Meg’s lovely voice and guitar work, twined intimately for what seems to be for your ears only. A classic folk record for today’s people. Not neo-folk. Not freak-folk. Something simpler, more immediate and enduring as well.

~ Elusive Disc

Meg Baird is the ever-restless lead vocalist from Espers. Dear Companion is her first solo album on Drag City. Full of traditional songs, well-chosen covers, and originals, it stands outside the freak folk scene, and doesn’t remind the listener of her primary band, either. Accompanied only by her acoustic guitar, Baird employs humor together with her melancholy, as she does on the title cut that opens the set. Alongside the lyric and instrumental frames, the backdrop at the beginning is also saturated with the spoken word rantings of an outrageously self-obsessed opportunist as Baird sings. She fades from view quickly and Baird digs into the tune full bore, letting her voice express plaintively the weight of the song’s lyric. A strummed autoharp in her chosen instrument for a cover of Chris Thompson’s “River Song,” and she double-tracks her own airy voice to underscore the meaning in the refrain.

Her reading of the age-old tragedy “The Cruelty of Barbary Allen” is stellar. Her thin, reedy upper register strips the narrative from the music, which becomes the film stock this tale is told upon. One of the real treasures here is Baird’s version of Jimmy Webb’s classic “Do What You Gotta Do.” She gets the depth of the loss, the acceptance in its refrain: “It’s my own fault/What happens to my heart.” And she means it — with a lilting harmony vocal a half step behind in places, she offers freedom and empathy, as all the while the protagonist’s heart is busted wide. She sings: “I had my eyes wide open/From the very start/You never, never lied to me….”

This is the actual price of love, to allow the Other whatever is necessary for his or her own good. Baird’s version tops Webb’s more orchestrated one.

The first of two originals is “Riverhouse in Tinicum.” Baird’s guitar playing, while somewhat rudimentary, is also quite compelling; a keyboard enters here, and the guitars are double-tracked in reverb as a gently swirling soundscape hovers in the backdrop. Her words are beautifully cryptic while revealing a narrative space nonetheless.

The most surprising cover is of John Dawson’s (New Riders of the Purple Sage) “All I Ever Wanted.” The original is an uncharacteristic psychedelic love song from NRPS’ self-titled debut. In Baird’s hands, it becomes a shimmering yet foreboding warning as well as surrender — one where the truth has to be told, but the protagonist gives up, confessing she wanted nothing more than to be loved. The counterpoint guitars and multi-tracked vocals bring a bittersweet, lovely melody to the fore and allow the lyrics to gain authority as the tune progresses. It’s simply gorgeous.

That’s the sum of Dear Companion. It’s a subtle, skeletal work of beauty that doesn’t fit in well with the overflowing river of singer/songwriters out there. Baird is an interpreter as well as a fine guitarist and songwriter. She allows the “folk” to stand out in these songs, and also brings out the intrinsic — and sometimes profound — beauty in their sadness; she makes stories of betrayal, loss, determination, honesty, and freedom contemporary in these hidden gems, no matter how old the tunes.

Dear Companion is one of those albums whose secrets are given up genuinely, but very slowly. Beautiful. Espers fans should greet it with applause, and those who love the music of Sandy Denny or Jacqui McShee should also enjoy this. It’s simply wonderful.

~ Thom Jurek

Take away the “freak-” and the “psych-” from the oft-used descriptors of her other endeavor, Espers, and you’re left with Meg Baird’s folk-folk solo debut, Dear Companion. Peel away the gongs, doumbeks, dholaks, distortion, and the penchant for the mystical of her fellow Philadelphia collaborators and Baird is left with only a guitar, a beautiful voice, and traditional tales. (Oh, and a little dulcimer.) After all that taking away, we’re left with an album of beautiful traditional and original songs that, while sparse, remind us why folk music requires us to slow down and listen: There is something to simplicity.

The group of friends that includes Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and the members of such bands as Vetiver, Brightblack Morning Light, the Skygreen Leopards has latched onto the messages and images of the folk-influenced artists of the 1960s and ’70s, when folk music was most relevant. But these new artists seem to be bringing back, or feasting on, an old trend rather than beginning a new one, and the output is normally benign. Baird’s Dear Companion, however, has no pretensions. She digs up old, seldom-heard traditional and recent folk tunes only to share them — as they are, as she interprets them.

With songs such as “The Cruelty of Barbary Allen” and “Willie O’ Winsbury,” it is clear that Baird has a vast knowledge and love of traditional folk songs. She makes more-recent obscurities such as Fraser & Debolt’s “The Waltze of the Tennis Players” and the New Riders of the Purple Sage’s “All I Ever Wanted” both contemporary and her own. On the former, her easy, captivating voice and guitar picking are soft and delicate; her version is less country than the original but equally as weird, and it’s difficult to believe it’s not her original creation.

Although Baird’s wandering guitar on originals “Riverhouse in Tinicum” and “Maiden in the Moor Lay” fits perfectly within the context of the album, her own songs don’t live up to those she’s reinterpreting. It may lack the enticing complexity and strangeness of her fellow practitioners’ work, but the quaint non-freak Dear Companion is sincere in its purpose. In straying from her aesthetic-heavy scene, Baird is able to deliver a pure folk album, reminding us that the music is more important than the image.

~ Prefix Mag

As the primary vocalist in Philadelphian acid-folk sextet Espers, Meg Baird has already proved herself to be a bewitching interpreter of songs – both ancient and modern – as well as a blossoming composer in her own right. But for all of Espers’ recorded triumphs to date – particularly 2005’s transcendental mini-album The Weed Tree – it’s been hard not to wish for Baird’s crystalline yet earthy tones to be lifted, if only temporarily, from the fog of the band’s hallucinogenic hazing. For the bulk of Dear Companion – Baird’s seductively sparse solo debut – we are delivered with such wish fulfilment.

Probably in a bid to keep her deep devotion to late-‘60s/early-‘70s folk revivalism uncorrupted, Baird’s first solitary release – cut during downtime in the recording sessions for Espers II – doesn’t go for instant easy overnight sensations. Aside from a couple of oft-covered folk standards, Baird’s choice of material swerves away from easy recognition and her own compositions seem almost deliberately unobtrusive. Instrumentally too, this is a nakedly stark set-up; with Baird accompanied only by a picked/strummed acoustic guitar or a dulcimer and the occasional double-tracked vocal. It takes an intangible twist of enchantment to stop such raw ingredients from turning to dry formula or congealing into finger-in-the-ear folk cliches, but mercifully Baird has the weave to make it work.

It takes a good dozen or so spins for Dear Companion to reveal its many measured charms, but once found there’s nothing to dislike and plenty to love. Two equally lovely versions of the title-track start and finish the record, in respective guitar-led and a cappella arrangements. The two most travelled British traditionals – “The Cruelty of Barbry Ellen” and “Willie O’Winsbury” – come imbued with aching Appalachian melancholy across their six or so minutes apiece of faithfully bittersweet story-telling. Another period ballad of approximately the same vintage – “Sweet William And Fair Ellen” – enjoys an evocative dulcimer-drone treatment, redolent of the fractured spookiness of The Incredible String Band.

Perhaps more remarkable translations come with the gorgeous torchlight take on “All I Ever Wanted” (originally by somewhat unhip Grateful Dead-offshoot outfit, New Riders of the Purple Sage) and a gentile whispery glide through Jimmy Webb’s “Do What You Gotta Do” (apparently learned from jazz-pop chanteuse Roberta Flack, of all people)Having given so much to the songs of others, Baird’s only two self-penned originals– the Nick Drake-indebted “Riverhouse In Tinicum” and the slightly-forgettable “Maiden In The Moor Lay” – feel undersold and too unassuming to really leave a mark.

Perhaps the bravery Baird has shown in so stringently cutting away from Espers’ sonic cloudiness could also be extended to investing more into her own promising, albeit under-explored, penmanship. However, at least leaving us with a thirst for something more, bodes well in justifying another solo set.

Whilst Dear Companion won’t exactly throw the musical world off its axis, its magnetic charms are hard to shake free from. At its best, Dear Companion finds Meg Baird forging the missing-link between the dear departed Sandy Denny and the still-very-much-living Gillian Welch – which is high-praise indeed for an ‘accidental’ side-project.

~ Delusions of Adequacy

Tracklisting

01. Dear Companion
02. River Song
03. The Cruelty of Barbary Allen
04. Do What You Gotta Do
05. Riverhouse in Tinicum
06. The Waltze of the Tennis Players
07. Maiden in the Moor Lay
08. Sweet William and Fair Ellen
09. All I Ever Wanted
10. Willie O’ Winsbury
11. Dear Companion (a cappella)

Big thanks to the original poster

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June 21, 2008 Posted by | Meg Baird, Music_Alternative, _MUSIC | Leave a comment