Meg Baird: Spring Forward

Meg Baird

All the elements are accounted for on Meg Baird’s Seasons On Earth. By John Vettese

The stage is empty except for a microphone and the stool Meg Baird is sitting on.

She’s playing to a club crowd a few blocks from her Philadelphia apartment in characteristic stance: right leg sharply crossing her left one, guitar resting on her knee, waist-length hair brushing the instrument, eyes closed, thoughts focused on nimbly finger-picking the song at hand.

It’s a cover of “Friends” by ’60s folk duo Mark-Almond Band, a tune that Baird appropriately enough discovered when a friend (Jeff Conklin of East Village Radio) put it on a mix a few years back.

“I’m drawn to songs that come my way in that fashion,” she says. “From people I know, people who are passionate about music.”

For Baird—one-half the songwriting team behind Drag City mystics Espers—music can be an introverted, solitary pursuit. But friends and collaborators are vital.

Her first album, 2007’s Dear Companion, was a lot of Meg unadorned, tackling traditional numbers (“The Cruelty of Barbary Ellen”) and ’60s folk nuggets (New Riders of the Purple Sage, Fraser & DeBolt) with a handful of originals mixed in.

Seasons on Earth, her second solo outing, to be released in September on Drag City, is the opposite. It offers eight exploratory originals, and only two covers (the aforementioned “Friends,” as well as “Beatles and the Stones” by House of Love). The adventurous songs unfold in expansive layers, her guitar blending with harpist Mary Lattimore, guitarist Steve Gunn, and Marc Orleans of Sunburned Hand of the Man on dobro and pedal steel.

Baird didn’t even know there was going to be a second solo album; she simply began to accumulate songs, written very much like she often performs: herself, her guitar, alone. Some date back to 2007, and evolved over years—though not drastically.

“The songs have pretty strong bones to them,” Baird says. “They’ve changed a lot, but they stayed close to the original core idea.”

The record calls to mind past Baird collaborations: the ghostly pedal steel Americana of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s 2010 offering The Wonder Show of the World, the traditional Appalachian music played with her sister Laura (as the Baird Sisters). Playing alone is absorbing and highly personal, Baird says, but working with an ensemble brings out elements that are otherwise lost. Seasons brings her solo work into that realm, a band-oriented album from a solo folk performer.

“That’s one thing that makes playing with other people fun,” Baird says. “You can surprise each other with your phrasing, with your interpretation of melodies and parts. Everybody I picked to play gave me lots of pleasant surprises… it’s part of the process.”