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Meg Baird – “Dear Companion” Review

By Vespertine

Meg Baird has emerged from the shadows of Philadelphia based folk-rockers Espers, her folk ‘day job’, to produce an excellent, albeit low key album that should bring her to a wider audience. But it won’t as there is no justice. Just us.

Folk is a term that sends many music fans running for cover, and nu-folk is the stealthy camouflage that folk wears to avoid pre-judgement. It is however a ridiculous term that covers such contrasting styles and artists as King Creosote, Jeffrey Lewis, Joanna Newsom, Espers, Rachel Unthank and Seth Lakeman amongst many. There are of course reference points such as acoustic instrumentation, lyrical storytelling and covers of traditional songs but as with most styles of music (except the ones I don’t like) it is unwise to write off whole genres without diving in first.

The doyen of the scene is of course the late, great Sandy Denny (buy her records now, that’s an order!) and there are hints of her style hovering over this album, but it is unwise to imagine many young female folk singers will be unaware and unmoved by her songs, and the influence is little more than a gentle, nagging presence. There are also inevitable similarities with the canon of ‘lost’ 70s female vocalists whose albums have been re-mastered and re-released of late, artists such as Ann Briggs, but the voice she reveals is very much her own, and the choice of covers is less obvious than would be assumed.

The album is very simple in its execution and delivery: some folk classics, some more modern covers from the folk-rock heyday of 1966-1973 and some self-penned tracks, all accompanied by just Meg’s voice and an acoustic guitar.

The highlight is a cover of the obscure (to me completely unknown!) Canadian duo Fraser & De Bolt’s song ‘The Waltze of the Tennis Players,’ which is wonderful in terms of tune and lyrics. “The reason I get so upset when you talk so assuredly, is where on earth is it leading me?” and the chorus which works better than it could appear on the page “Your love for me is an overnight sensation, my love for you, it’s an overnight sensation too.”

Also stunning is a cover of Jimmy Webb’s ‘Do What You Gotta Do’ which was covered by Roberta Flack amongst others, perhaps the source of Meg Baird’s inspiration?

There are also traditional songs, which often feature female protagonists, as folk ballads so often do. The real surprise is thequality of Baird’s own songs, of which she only drip feeds a few. Of  these the best is the Nick Drake-esque ‘Riverhouse In Tinicum’ which is an album highlight and should give Meg the confidence to tackle more of her own songs.

I am not sure whether this album will take off in the manner of Joanna Newsom’s ‘Ys’ or sink into cult obscurity but you won’t regret buying ‘Dear Companion’ or taking the first step towards the world of Arran jumpers, beards, cider and rucksacks.

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