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Sound Check

7/1/2015

Meg BairdMeg Baird
“Don’t Weigh Down the Light”
Drag City

The element that is responsible for perhaps the biggest influence on Meg Baird’s newest solo effort does not come in the form of an instrument or a producer. Rather, it is a city. After her last album, Baird moved from her long-time home of Philadelphia to San Francisco. It is most likely no coincidence then that “Don’t Weigh Down the Light” plays down Baird’s Appalachian folk influences in service of a more British-inspired sound, nor that the album focuses on themes of displacement and transition. The middle track on the album is a musical amuse bouche titled “Leaving Song,” which features Baird’s hauntingly plaintive voice through wordless vocals, while the title track’s finger-picked melody feels delicate and haunting. CV

 

The SteelDriversSteeldrivers
“The Muscle Shoals Recordings”
Rounder

For many bands, a pilgrimage to Muscle Shoals brings with it the promise of southern rock and soulful influences. But for The Nashville-based SteelDrivers, the legendary recording town has simply taken its sound and elevated it to a higher level. The band remains slavishly devoted to its classic bluegrass roots — the band’s earnest approach even manages to wrest the banjo back from the edge of Mumford and Sons-driven ruin. However, “The Muscle Shoals Recordings” provides perhaps the most polished realization of the band’s sound yet. Everything that has made The SteelDrivers popular amongst bluegrass fans has been given an extra spit-polish and put on display. Gary Nichols’ jangling, craggy voice melds beautifully with Tammy Rogers’ fiddle and Richard Bailey’s banjo. The album teems with bluesy high points like “The Day Before Temptation” and “Ashes of Yesterday,” but the strongest track on the album is probably the Jason Isbell-produced murder ballad “Brother John,” with its tale of love and woe counterpointed by Isbell’s own sumptuous slide guitar. CV

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