Meg Baird

Seasons on Earth

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Since Espers' Meg Baird released her debut solo offering, Dear Companion, in 2007 she's worked at transforming herself into a songwriter of distinction. Dear Companion was a collection of well-chosen covers that contained but two originals. Seasons on Earth is the mirror image of that recording. Baird contributes eight of her own tunes here, and includes two lovely -- if unusual -- cover choices. At the heart of the record is the sound of her acoustic guitar. It's as present in the mix as her vocals, as if it were a voice of its own. For Baird, whose voice is airy and lithe, the songs on Seasons on Earth are part and parcel of the instrument's qualities of tone, sonority, and the intimacy that the six-string communicates, even when illustrated further by other instruments, whether it be spare electric guitars by friends Chris Forsyth or Steve Gunn, a harp played by Mary Lattimore, or the even more prevalent pedal steels and dobros contributed by Marc Orleans. Check the gorgeous, deliberate, and nearly raga-like instrumentation that underscores her poignant vocal on "Stars Climb Up the Vine." The adroit fingerpicking on "Even Rain," with its rhythmic underpinning on the bass strings -- perhaps a conscious tribute to the late Jack Rose, to whose memory the album is dedicated -- glides in tandem with Baird's voice, anchoring it in the grain of the lyric. The centerpieces of the album are the covers: her gorgeous reading of the Jon Mark's nugget "Friends," from Mark-Almond's second album, relies on the tenets of British folk, while leaving the original's acoustic jazz underpinnings a whisper in the refrain. Those traits are also heard in her cover of House of Love's "Beatles and the Stones" that follows it; with its deft steel-string playing, it delves into the songwriter's folk traits at the heart of the melody, leaving its pop overtones in the shadows. "The Finder," while a modern song, would have been right at home in the Laurel Canyon scene of the early '70s, while "Stream," with its lilting, whining, pedal steel, crosses various lines: from West Coast post-psychedelia, Sandy Denny's less traditional offerings (complete with enthusiastically strummed 12-strings), and intimate singer/songwriter fare à la Judee Sill, seamlessly. Seasons on Earth is a poetic, thoroughly engaging set from a now-mature songwriter, whose confidence in her musical language is as poetic as it is authoritative.

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