“It’s 1940 in my mind,” sings Heidi Spencer on “Under Streetlight Glow,” the title track to her gorgeous third record.
As if being one of the most compelling singers I’ve heard in a while isn’t good enough, Spencer is also an astute critic of the music she’s making with backing band the Rare Birds. Like Joanna Newsom’s “Have One on Me,” “Under Streetlight Glow” is the kind of stately, pretty, singer-songwritery chamber music that stands out of time, an album you’d be as likely to dig out of your parents’ vinyl crates as download off iTunes.
The gravely twang in Spencer’s voice is what grabs your attention; the different ways she bends that quiver on each track can be alluring (come-ons “Alibi” and “Go to France”) or downright heartbreaking (plaintive ballads “Moth Met Spider” and “Tried and True”). The Rare Birds -- mostly acoustic guitars, standing bass, an accordion or two, some choice piano keys -- ground Spencer’s songs in an almost classical austerity and sincere feeling. A few more overt Americana sounds, like the steel guitar sliding in and out of “Hibernation,” add nuanced grace notes and, perhaps, point towards what I imagine could be one hell of an alt-country album. I’d love to hear what Spencer sounds like when her heart is a little less heavy -- that voice could crack a mean joke or wither a no-good man with sarcasm -- and what the Rare Birds would do given a little more room to let loose.
But then, I’d love to hear pretty much anything this band does next, starting with their July 30th show at Linneman’s in Milwaukee.
Joey Tayler is the lead writer on Rocksposure.com. Based out of Milwaukee, WI, he is always looking for a new show to see. If there is something you think he should be listening to, send him an email at JoeyT@Rocksposure.com