It’s not so much the quantity but the breadth of music Meg Baird has released that stands out most in her two decades of performing and recording. Beginning with her first self-released album with her sister Laura as The Baird Sisters in 2003, The Baird Sisters at Home, and on to her career singing with Philadelphia’s great Espers, her music has been loosely defined within the general spheres of folk, psychedelia, and psychedelic folk, rooted as much in ’70s-era country rock and Americana as English folk. But she’s found limitless plains to explore therein, collaborating with members of Comets on Fire in the blazing Heron Oblivion, recording and performing with Kurt Vile, and elevating into far-off realms with harpist Mary Lattimore. When Baird does release a solo album, however, it can often like a return home—stripping away the layers of effects and experimental detours to leave the focus on the song itself, warm and haunting when left to its barest essence.
Furling is the first album to solely bear Baird’s name in eight years, though to call it a “solo” record is something of a misnomer. Recorded and performed by Baird and her partner Charlie Saufey, also her bandmate in Heron Oblivion, Furling employs the simple structure of folk music’s fingerstyle guitar and voice as a foundation upon which much richer arrangements can be layered and interwoven. It still feels in large part like a homecoming, but one in which the home you’ve returned to feels bigger than you might remember it, and with some new furniture.
Where Baird’s vocals often provided an anchor to past songs, on Furling‘s opener “Ashes, Ashes,” she ascends wordlessly into the highest end of her range, casting off folk’s most earthen qualities in favor of something untethered. These lyric-less flights of fancy find her backed by a hypnotic swirl of piano, electric guitar and vibraphone, inviting more soul and jazz into her otherworldly Americana. Similarly maximalist if awash in a darker shade of sepia is “Will You Follow Me Home,” perhaps the most explicit moment of Meg-Baird-as-rock-band we’ve heard on any of her records to date, its deep bassline and rhythmic strut fleshing out a more deceptively incorporeal cloud of reverb.
That Baird’s arrangements are more fully fleshed out isn’t in itself a major change; on 2015’s Don’t Weigh Down the Light, she and Saufey took more opportunities to build some of her songs out into more vividly realized productions. On Furling, however, it’s the simpler moments that are in the minority, a song like the gently beautiful “Cross Bay” standing in stark relief against the lush vibrations of “Twelve Saints” or the glimmering waltz of “Star Hill Song.” That these songs are pretty is a given, considering both Baird’s vocal talents and knack for spinning an aching melody. Yet with the gift of a more ornate sound, these songs take on a more romantic sensibility, lit not by candle or hearth but by the bright glow of a star-filled sky.
While Meg Baird has been part of at least two excellent bands during her career, with Furling she arrives at a similarly rewarding level of depth and abundance. Yet she saves some of her most breathtaking material for the moments with the fewest elements, the sparse “Wreathing Days” comprising just piano and voice, closing the album with a gentle, if chilling lullaby. The empty spaces seem to reverberate just as much as those she fills with denser instrumentation, but both add up to an arresting whole.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.