Meg Baird’s voice and lovely music are new to my ears, and these ears are very thankful to have her. As a fan of music in general and its many diverse offerings, for some unexplained reason I have not paid enough attention to newer currents in folk music. Despite being a bit of a pre-war folk, country, and country-blues junkie, I’ve limited that addiction to predominantly African-American performers whose recordings pre-date 1970. Unless you consider what a pre-publicity-seeking-asshole Mark Kozelek was making under the Sun Kil Moon moniker to be folk music, Meg Baird is the closest thing I’ve heard to the folk revival sound in the 2000s.
Upon first listen, Meg Baird’s Don’t Weigh Down the Light immediately reminded me of Sandy Denny and the Fairport Convention, some of the sounds that came out of California’s late-80’s neo-psychedelic scene (aka the Paisley Underground), and the many bands that preceded and pioneered the sounds of what later become major-label acts like the Bangles and Mazzy Star. On Don’t Weigh Down the Light, Baird’s voice is accompanied by finger-picked acoustic guitar, slide-guitar, organ, bass, and light percussion. Baird’s music contains both the light and dark elements that keep this kind of music in perfect balance: not too sweet, not too bitter. It hits the spot that resides directly in the middle.
I’ve tried my best to listen to Don’t Weigh Down the Light in different contexts and considered its effects on me during a specific time and place. I quickly concluded that this album doesn’t make for a great morning commute because it made me feel melancholy about the imposition of the nine-to-five work week and the lack of free time to spend with my partner. I wanted to get off the crowded train and crawl back into bed. During an evening commute, on the other hand, it made the end of my day a little more pleasant. When “Back to You” came on while the B-Train car I was in filled up with natural light from a setting sun while going over the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn, I had a moment of bliss. The teeth-clenching stress from a long and exhausting day receded and gave way to warm thoughts of home. I also played Don’t Weigh Down the Light while sitting in my home office and talking to my partner one early-autumn evening, and it was incredible how the sounds warmed up the room. This is what music should do for us: make life more livable and enhance those moments that we want to dwell in, whether those moments are good or bad.
There are elements of pastoral English folk, Appalachia, West-coast psych, Neil Young & Crazy Horse rock-isms, and even hints of Cocteau Twins’ signature sleepy/drone pop in Don’t Weigh Down the Light. I find that Baird’s soprano voice and her whisper-like enunciation, much like Elizabeth Fraser of the aforementioned Cocteau Twins, position the vocals as another layer in the wall of atmospheric sound that are the songs as a whole. This is why she can also perform an a cappella song so well. The voice is not high in the mix but nestled between the instruments, which unfortunately occasionally makes the lyrics difficult to ascertain. However, unless I’m missing something in translation, the lyrics aren’t particularly urgent. For what most of us know as folk music from the 20th century, the lyrics were topical and the drive to promote it was political (it was “the people’s music”) and even anti-commercial (until Bob Dylan started making his label a ton of money, that is), so vocals tended to be high in the mix so that they could be clearly heard, understood, and learned by others. Finding good music with relatively wide distribution that contains any kind of politically inspired storytelling in the 21st century is fairly challenging. I wish it wasn’t, but—and I may be in the minority here—most of what I’ve been exposed to in this genre is either derivative Dylan, Ochs, Baez, and Bragg clones on the left, or poorly executed reactionary humdrum (see: a lot of new neofolk) from the right. And freak-folk, well … there was that.
Good music doesn’t always need to be about “saying something” or “standing up to something/someone.” Sometimes it just needs to be good music. There’s nothing particularly novel or groundbreaking about Don’t Weigh Down the Light, and it really need to not be. It’s beautiful and welcoming music. It’s as comforting as a kind familiar face and as comfortable as the worn-out cushion on your side of the couch.
02) I Don’t Mind
03) Mosquito Hawks
04) Back to You
05) Past Houses
06) Leaving Song
07) Stars Unwinding
08) Good Directions
09) Don’t Weigh Down the Light
10) Even the Walls Don’t Want You to Go
11) Past Houses (Reprise)
Written by: J. M. Da Silva
Drag City Records (United States) / DC632 / 12″ LP, CD, Digital
Wichita Recordings (United Kingdom) / WEBB445LP / 12″ LP, CD
Psych Folk / Traditional Folk