Here’s a great practical joke you can play on that one record-collector friend of yours who’s constantly getting himself all worked into a lather over over the latest limited-edition, vinyl-only reissue of some late-’60s/early-’70s psych-folk obscurity with either a hirsute gent or flower-bedecked lady on the cover and a wealth of gently moody acoustic ballads. Play him a track or two from Seasons on Earth (even the title probably evokes enough hippie-era mysticism to get him excited) by Meg Baird. Hell, you can even show him the CD booklet, which shows, among other images, a longhaired, bluejean-clad Baird peeking past multi-colored curtains as a strand of sunlight comes through the window. As he hears one hushed, pensive tune after another, full of Baird’s acoustic fingerpicking patterns and softly gliding vocals, he’s bound to wet himself.
After he recovers his composure, you can let him in on the fact that he’s actually been listening to a brand new album by a contemporary singer/songwriter who probably wasn’t even alive when many of the esoteric LPs he worships were originally issued. Those who pay a bit more attention to the musical goings-on of the current century, however, will recognize Baird as one of the charter members of the great psych-folk revivalist ensemble Espers, but she has also collaborated with everyone from Bonnie “Prince” Billy to old-school folk legend Bert Jansch. Baird’s first official solo album, Dear Companion, came out in 2007 and consisted mostly of traditional tunes and covers of songs by such psych-folk cult heroes as Chris Thompson and Fraser & Debolt.
For this follow-up release, however, Baird handles most of the songwriting chores herself, with only two covers present — one by veteran U.K. singer/songwriter Jon Mark, and one by ’80s band House of Love. But even the covers don’t alter the momentum or mood that Baird sets throughout the album. It’s true that her sound does indeed bring to mind various age-of-Aquarius troubadours, both in her crystalline acoustic guitar lines (a la Nick Drake) and her simultaneously aqueous and airy vocal tones (very early Joni Mitchell, Linda Perhacs). But there’s no trace of affectation to be found anywhere on Seasons on Earth — Baird never sounds like she’s putting on a style. For that matter, she’s stripped her approach down to the bone here, both musically — her voice and guitar carry the arrangements, with only minimal accompaniment from a small handful of guests — and lyrically (her songs seem mostly intended as simple evocations of universal, if sometimes metaphysical, notions and emotions). So while Seasons on Earth turns out not to be the sort of stoner’s delight diehard psych-folkers might be looking for, neither is it looking in any direction other than straight ahead, evocations of another era notwithstanding.