Since I blogged about the Espers live gig last Friday, I’ve been playing the Meg Baird solo album to death.
Baird sings lead on most Espers songs, and it’s sometimes hard to divine the true quality of her voice beneath the layers of strum and drone. There are no such obfuscations on “Dear Companion”, a set mostly consisting of her voice and guitar. The songs are mainly covers (though often pretty obscure ones), and I must confess that the first couple of times I played it, it wafted nonchalantly past without making much impact. Another decent but unexceptional acid folk album, I figured.
Wrongly, as it turns out. Baird is a discreet talent, certainly. Espers are probably this generation’s most effective heirs to Fairport Convention, but Baird will never be Sandy Denny. The purity and delicacy are there, but there’s no sense of stridency, of bending the band to her will.
On “Dear Companion”, though, the intimacy of her tone becomes a massive advantage. At times, it reminds me of that neglected lady of the canyon, Linda Perhacs: Baird’s own and quite wonderful “Riverhouse In Tinicum” has the rippling tranquility and distant ethereal hum that made Perhacs’ “Parallelograms” such a classic. For a contemporary analogue, Marissa Nadler isn’t a bad call (Nadler, coincidentally, worked with Espers’ Greg Weeks on her inferior third album).
If “Riverhouse In Tinicum” is the stand-out, the rest of “Dear Companion” is notable for the grace and taste of Baird’s selections. She does Jimmy Webb‘s “Do What You Gotta Do”, with harmony vocals (I’m not sure whether she’s multi-tracked or if it’s another singer) that bring to mind the McGarrigles. And she’s confident enough to take on an English standard like “Willie O’Winsbury”, notably covered by Anne Briggs and Pentangle. It’s a great version, and this whole album gets better and better.