Meg Baird- Don’t Weigh Down the Light

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Friday, July 3, 2015

Four years may have passed since Meg Baird’s last solo record, but that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t been busy. In addition to releasing material as The Baird Sisters with sister Laura and drumming in Philly punk band Watery Love, Baird relocated to San Francisco and joined Heron Oblivion. Even with all this activity she’s managed to write a new album entitled Don’t Weigh Down the Light, and it’s sure to make an immediate impression on listeners. Mixing somber minimalistic folk with sprawling bright instrumentation, Baird offers songs with quite a bit of depth that only seem to reveal their nuances the longer you spend time with them. It’s the type of record that is capable of completely sucking you in from the very first note, and demonstrates that this singer/songwriter continues to grow and expand her sound outwards in a way that is truly stunning.

Baird’s fingerstyle guitar still serves as the base of the majority of the material on Don’t Weigh Down the Light, but compared to the minimalistic style of her previous full lengths there is a lot more happening this time around. What listeners will notice as they make their way through this album is that there’s a regular shift between sparser pieces that take on a more somber tone and those that adopt a brighter, cheerful sound and add extra layers to the instrumentation. This gives the material a bit more depth than is sometimes typical from folk singer/songwriters, as I’ve noticed a tendency for many of them to find a particular sound and then stick with that for an entire album. But Baird’s ability to branch out works to her advantage, as you have soft melancholic tracks like “Stars Unwinding” that have a very wistful, introspective feel to them mixed with numbers like “Good Directions” where the instrumentation becomes much more cheerful and there are so many layers that it sounds like this could be a piece from a full band. There are plenty of immediate hooks present in the guitar melodies that will pull you in to Baird’s guitar playing, but this is also the type of album where the smaller details start to pop out with successive listens and that’s where this release proves it has plenty of staying power.

There may be plenty of nuances to the guitar playing and other instrumental work that stands out, but Baird’s vocal performance is what really steals the show here. As the songs change from drearier to brighter tones, her voice follows suit and encompasses a fairly broad spectrum. On fuller songs like “Mosquito Hawks” Baird’s voice absolutely soars, reaching airier melodic ranges that entice the listener to explore further, while on the aforementioned “Stars Unwinding” this same style is used in a more ethereal style that sends chills down my spine every time I hear it. I often find that any kind of record in the folk genre really lives or dies by the power of its singer, as the instrumentals leave space to expose all of their nuances. This is where Meg Baird really stands out, as she’s able to capture both the somber, spaced out psychedelic and darker directions of the genre along with some of the brighter and cheerful ones and tie them all together.

Don’t Weigh Down the Light is an impressive achievement from a singer/songwriter who only seems to get better as the years go by. Despite moving across the country and being involved in other musical projects, Meg Baird has clearly spent a good deal of time fine tuning this newest solo effort and the results speak for themselves. Where a lot of folk artists seem to find a comfortable spot between either bright and cheery pieces or somber ballads, Baird strikes a fine balance between the two and process that she’s capable of a level of depth and nuance that stand out in this crowded space.

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