Meg Baird's new album, Seasons on Earth, comes out Sept. 20.
Meg Baird's new album, Seasons on Earth, comes out Sept. 20. Jeff Elstone
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Keeping listeners warm in the wind-whipped wilderness of the world is the cozy campfire of finger-picked acoustic guitar. That sound has a history of intimacy and intensity which surely dates back to African harps, Greek lyres and European lutes. In American music, the gentle intricacies of finger-picking patterns unite blues, bluegrass, traditional folk and introspective, revolutionary songwriters like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and their many musical children and grandchildren.
On her new album Seasons on Earth, out Sept. 20, Philadelphia songwriter Meg Baird stokes that sonic campfire, using its heat to draw listeners near to her thoughts and observations. These are songs about transitions: growing up, growing away, searching for a place to be and a way to love. But while Baird's lyrics may be about changes and uncertainties, she sets them to music that offers a sense of reassurance by connecting her audience to old traditions in new ways.
In "Stars Climb up the Vine" and "The Finder," Baird's finger-picking shares common ground with the meditative musical patterns of minimalism. There's a discursive, unhurried quality to the way her songs unfurl, transcending the usual shape and size of folk songs. Baird's singing — familiar to some listeners from her work with the band Espers — is both fragile and robust. There's a sense of authenticity to this music: It's authentically felt and expressed, authentically new, and authentically part of an ancient tradition.
Baird's first solo album, 2007's Dear Companion, featured mostly cover songs, and while Seasons on Earth contains mostly originals, there are two cover songs here, and they're great. Baird takes "Beatles and the Stones," a 1990 song by the British band The House of Love, and shows it to be a brilliant example of the alchemy of song — the words, which don't really make logical sense to the brain, feel true and immediate to the heart. Baird's version of the Mark-Almond band's 1972 song "Friends" wisely stays close to the simple directness of the original.
Highlights of Baird's Seasons on Earth originals include the lovely move to a major key in the chorus of "Share," the exultant, odd-metered rhythms in "Stream," and the subtle additions of pedal steel, dobro, harp and electric guitar tastefully sprinkled throughout by Baird's assisting musicians. The album's songs display Baird's passion for poetry, as she uses the friction of words, music, mystery and clarity to generate still more heat for her campfire.