I'm not the biggest fan of neo-traditional folk, but every once in awhile someone breaks down my resistance. Meg Baird, from Philadelphia's acid-folk combo Espers, is one of those people. I guess it's because there's a Cambridge-meets-Woodstock vibe to her work. There isn't anything calculatedly retro about Seasons on Earth; it's just that she reminds me more of Melanie or Maria Muldaur, circa Pottery Pie, than any of the Lilith Fair/Adult Contemporary crowd.
Baird's AMG entry lists the following artists as influences, although I have no idea if she signs off on any of them: Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Shirley Collins, Sandy Denny, Maddy Prior, Robert Wyatt, Judee Sill, Anne Briggs, and Linda Perhacs.
From 2007's Dear Companion.
It's not just about her airy voice, but the steel guitar and dobro-playing of Marc Orleans. Her own finger-picking, which combines twang with Eastern tonalities and shimmering, cascading runs, reveals quality time spent with Nick Drake.
In "The Beatles and the Stones," a song by Britain's House of Love, she cites two other possible favorites, except I don't hear a trace of their music in hers.
That said, I can't deny that she recalls Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays, though I put that down to biology more than anything else. I don't have a problem with it, though your mileage may vary. Then again, I have a thing about lithe sopranos, like Becky Sharp of Lavender Diamond. Some people find that sort of thing precious, but I like to let a little light into the darkness every once in a while.
Furthermore, these aren't happy campfire sing-a-longs. There's a bittersweet quality to Baird's lyrics and melodies. And "Stream" proves she can inject rock-style intensity into a simple acoustic ballad. If anything, I wish she did that more often, but her second record deserves at least a fraction of the attention Philly neighbor Kurt Vile's been getting.* And I think his fans might dig it.
* I wrote that before I found this cover.
Baird dedicates Seasons on Earth, which is out now, to guitarist Jack Rose (1971-2009), "who is missed more than can be expressed here or elsewhere."