Under Streetlight Glow is the third album from American singer-songwriter Heidi Spencer but only the first to find its way to our distant shores, brought to us in cahoots with the always reliable Bella Union Records. In an interview with Wears The Trousers last September, Spencer described the album as a “true erratic moody flawed culmination of thoughts” – more specifically, thoughts from three nomadic years spent zigzagging the states of North America, sleeping in cars and working waitress jobs to get by. The outcome is a stirring experience that dabbles in everything you’d expect it to with such a peripatetic gestation: often poignant folk, sometimes melancholic country, and a little lazy blues.
The involvement of Spencer’s Rare Birds – her backing band comprising Bill Curtis on drums, Matt Hendricks on guitar, Jesse Hrobar on piano, Dave Gelting on contrabass and Renee Patt on harmonies – is always pared down, occasionally to the point of extinction. So to hear Spencer share her flawed thoughts is very much akin to sitting across from the self-confessed “kitchen table singer/songwriter/dreamer,” perhaps while nursing a cup of tea, as she brings her thoughts and feelings to life. Each hearing sounds like the first; Spencer sings songs that haunt and linger, that might make you miss your turning, songs that will drift through a still house on a Sunday afternoon. These are songs of endings, told so delicately and with such feeling that you can’t help but find beauty in her “sad situations.”
Spencer’s breathy, sweet vocals aren’t a million miles away from acknowledged influence Dolly Parton, and the weeping guitar chords of ‘Hibernation’ and ‘Whiskey’ are country through and through. Elsewhere, the traces of another of Spencer’s heroines, the iconic Joni Mitchell, are just as easy to follow. There is a shared simplicity in the musical arrangements, and Spencer, like Mitchell, uses silence in her songs just as well as she does words. Emotion stirs within the pauses between the chords and the lyrics, allowing feelings or questions that follow her stories to live deep within the bars of the music. Those words, at times, can be indistinct and confusing; Spencer’s metaphors, brought to life several years ago in the back of a car, may be withering now. What is left behind though, if not a clear picture, is a knotted, moody soul, lost and brave, and telling us so with the crystal and fur of a beautiful voice.
[Bella Union; January 17, 2011]