Essential New Music: Meg Baird’s “Furling”

In name and sound, Furling feels like a record that makes sense of the last few years. After all, one furls the sails when it’s time for the boat to slow down. And the album’s nine songs have a quiet, reflective quality that’s miles from the explosive jams that Meg Baird and her partner, Charlie Saufley, were playing a few years back with Heron Oblivion. But they’re perfectly matched to the business of hunkering down and staying inside for a spell. It might, however, come as a surprise to find that these songs were written and mostly tracked before the 2020 quarantine commenced. COVID can only claim credit for the bottlenecks that held up Furling’s release until 2023, not the reasons for its creation.

Furling isn’t an album that you can peg to a particular time. Baird’s compass points toward stars that have been guiding navigation for 40 or 50 years. Post-Fairport Sandy Denny and the stoned pastoralism of David Crosby and Neil Young loom large, although Baird might also direct you to a crateload of far-more-obscure singer/songwriters. Her finger-picked acoustic guitar and stately piano can carry a song alone, but when she layers them or adds just enough percussion, Baird’s arrangements invite you to hold on and listen deep into the spaces. There, you’ll find some harmonically and emotionally just-so licks by Saufley, who’s as masterful at devising understated guitar parts that perfectly complement Baird’s airy voice and graceful melodies as he was at raising a ruckus in Heron Oblivion.

The subjects of Baird’s songs are similarly universal. On “The Saddest Verses,” she appreciates the bittersweetness of memory; “Cross Bay” likewise savors the balm of a friendly gesture in this chaotic world. Furling transcends the times in which it was made, and it will be good company in any time to come. 

—Bill Meyer