The thing about Meg Baird
Buried in my “end of the year list thing-y” post last week, I mentioned Meg Baird and her latest release Seasons On Earth. And I’ve been feeling guilty that it was merely just a mention because she deserves more exposure than a sentence fragment. I’m pretty sure that if more people knew about her and heard her music, Meg would be huge. Not huge like a sumo wrestler, elephant, skyscraper or Miley Cyrus, but huge in the way of an extremely talented and accomplished acoustic singer-songwriter-guitarist within the folk, Americana and roots music world. And although I left Philadelphia (where she is based) for the sunshine of California thirty-two years ago, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a little geographical pride. Meg is much tastier and more filling than either a Tastykake, soft pretzel or hoagie.
Before I share a little about her, you need to watch this. The song is called “The Finder” from the new album, and the video was done by Naomi Yang, a name I know many of you will recall from her band Galaxy 500.
Lacking what I would call a really comprehensive website from Meg, I’ve been trying to piece together her story through other blogs, print media, a recent NPR World Cafe performance and interview (hear it here), and little bits of information I’ve picked up. While I’ve found with many artists these days that they become aggressive self-promoters and it’s pretty easy to reach out to them, Meg feels almost elusive to me. Which may not really be truthful, because with a little more effort on my part I probably could have made contact if I wanted to. But I think that part of my fascination with her is in the mystery of distance.
The Baird family are descendants of one of the first recorded Appalachian players, Issac Garfield Green. Meg has described her home as one filled with music, with her father playing guitar and trombone and having a collection of “early music” albums. She had years of piano lessons and is a self-taught guitar player, and they lived and grew up in Burlington New Jersey…your basic suburb just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.
Along with her sister Laura, they have been playing together for as long as Meg can remember, performing and recording as The Baird Sisters. They became introduced to a lot of traditional material via the Smithsonian Archives and have two albums: the first one (three little chords) is a home recording available as a free download on last.fm and the second (Lonely Town) from 2003 can be bought via their website. I believe there may be more recording planned for later this year.
Here is a great video of The Baird Sisters performing at the 2008 Philadelphia Folk Festival, with an insightful interview
Meg is one of the founding members and primary songwriters along with Greg Weeks and Brooke Sietinsons in Espers. A band often described as pysch-folk (I’m really beginning to dread that term), they came together in 2002, have released four albums and appear on a bunch of compilations. Later members include Helena Espvall, Chris Smith and Otto Hauser. This is the “editorial review” posted on Amazon about the band’s first self-titled release from 2004: “Fully versed in the sumptuous vernacular of drug music, the cradle of Appalachian song, and the succinct truths of the three minute pop ballad, Espers’ full-length debut is an irresistible collection of songs essential for fans of Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Jackson C. Franck, and Bert Jansch.” Throw in a little taste of German prog-rock every now and then, along with sonic experimentation that we used to call acid or psychedelic back in sixties, and that about describes them.
Here’s something I think is a pretty representative “taste of Espers” that I found on You Tube:
In 2007 Meg released her first solo album, Dear Companion. An acoustic collection featuring many obscure and little-known cover songs from the sixties and seventies, it’s a beautiful recording that makes many writers and bloggers compare her voice to Fairport’s Sandy Denny. And while there is indeed a similar quality, the comparison seems almost too easy to make because there is a much more complex influence at play. In the past several years in addition with collaborating with Laura, she has toured with Bert Jansch and backed Sharon Van Etten and Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
Seasons on Earth was released last September and I believe that Meg is in the UK now touring and promoting it. I know it’s received incredible reviews and is popping up on other end of the year lists besides mine. The instrumentation is beautifully done, with her amazing finger-picking augmented by harp, pedal steel and tastes of electric guitar. It’s the type of album that can defy typecasting…folk but not quite, alt. country but not really…and one that might easily get lost in the endless release stream of indie artists these days. Which would be a tragedy.
I’m going to leave you with one more video of a 2010 performance on WNYC. I want you to pay attention to the first ten seconds before she begins. Appearing lost for just a moment, it reminds me of a great high wire artist taking their first step. Testing the tension, getting one’s footing. And then performing in absolute perfection. Just beautiful. Anyway…despite my often rants about why I don’t like “best of” lists or beauty pageants for art…here is my artist of the year. Meg Baird.