Singer and songwriter Meg Baird takes her time between solo records. Her first offering, Dear Companion, was released between Espers' albums in 2007. Her second, Seasons on Earth, appeared in 2011, a year after the excellent covers set Leaves from Off the Tree with Sharron Kraus and Helena Espvall. Don't Weigh Down the Light follows after another four-year break, and is her first album since relocating to San Francisco from Philadelphia. What ties all of her albums together is her root sources. They are deeply steeped in, even haunted by, the English folk tradition informed but not dominated by psychedelia. Cut at Bauer Mansion Studio and mixed by Eric Bauer and Bob Marshall, this set offers a contrast to earlier outings in that Baird is confident enough to play several instruments with only longtime collaborator Charlie Saufley (Hexadic) accompanying her. As evidenced by the pre-release track "Counterfeiters," this is a spidery, subtle collection. The two-chord progression in this song comes right out of Neil Young's "Down by the River," though it's teased out and turned with fingerpicked acoustic guitars, a swooning slide here and there, and well-utilized reverb adding space and texture to Baird's plaintive, lovely voice. The pronounced, strummed 12-string on "Mosquito Hawks" is accented by a single-string lead line, while rounded, elegiac tom-toms underscore the longing in her lyric. Her voice is much more disciplined than on any previous album, adding heft and depth. It comes from the well of experience as her pitch glides on the tags, allowing emotion to flow freely and underscoring her lyric metaphors with meaning. The ghostly upright piano on "Past Houses" comes seemingly from the ether, adding dimension to a wispy, languid tune adorned by gauzy electric and acoustic guitars. "Stars Unwinding" is a nocturnal minor-key ballad that recalls -- and updates -- the tonal palette Pentangle employed on early albums. Its floating organ hovers around an aching lyric and modal fingerpicking. The title track is perhaps the most intimate thing here. Its unhurried pace is underscored as only guitars and reverb add ballast to a restrained lyric line. This is deceptive as it contains many gentle arc, and shadowy contours, making it nearly hummable. It opens onto the heartbreaking "Even the Walls Don't Want to Go," with its gently striated harmonies, and open, ringing, drone-like lead 12-string guitars and strummed rhythms. Baird's vocal is most impressive on this track; it recalls Liz Fraser's of the Cocteau Twins, and makes this the most blissed-out breakup song in recent memory. With repeated listening -- which it most certainly warrants -- Don't Weigh Down the Light, despite dynamic and instrumental economy, feels almost lush in its melodic sophistication and articulate, poetic lyrics. It carefully builds -- creatively and emotionally -- on everything Baird had accomplished so far and ascends to another level entirely.
Don't Weigh Down the Light Review
by Thom Jurek