dontcha hate it when you think you have that "who they sound like" thing down but can't quite nail it?
sort of a Tori/Fiona thing vocally but not the music
too laid back for me, got sleepy

Grade - 1.3

released Mar 29th, 2011

from the album - Under Streetlight Glow - 1.5

from all music


Heidi Spencer & the Rare Birdswere mainstays on the Milwaukee club scene for a few years, cutting two previous self-released albums before being signed to former Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde's U.K. independent Bella Union imprint and releasing Under Streetlight Glow. Born in 1974, Spencer is the daughter of Milwaukee underground magazine co-founder and musician Jim Spencer (he is best known for the solo offering Second Look, regarded in some circles as an early-'70s countercultural masterpiece). After the premature death of her father, she found his guitar in the basement and taught herself to play. She spent much of her youth after school living an itinerant lifestyle in over a dozen states before returning to Milwaukee to make films (some of which have been featured in festivals) and write songs.

Spencer began playing at 15, and writing songs at 18, inspired in equal parts by Dolly Parton, Edie Brickell, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, and Tom Petty -- though her sparse, ethereal sound doesn't reflect any of them save perhaps for Parton's earliest, more folk-inpired recordings. She formed the Rare Birds, featuring drummer/producer Bill Curtis, guitarist Matt Hendricks, Jess Hrobar on piano, double bassist Dave Gelting, and harmony vocalist Renee Pratt. The band's first offering, Matches and Valentines, was self-released in 2003, and followed by Luck We Made in 2005. While Spencer's sound contains many trace elements of traditional British and folk music and recognizable Americana traits, her incantatory music, evidenced best on 2011's Under Streetlight Glow, is unique, with its sparse atmospherics, hallucinatory lyrics, and melodies balanced against an economy of tension that reflects a bounty of yearning.

Album Review

On her first record in six years -- and her debut for Simon Raymonde's Bella Union imprint -- Heidi Spencer & the Rare Birds don't stray far from the meld of classic-era British folk, Americana, and shimmering, low-key rock that established their well-deserved reputation. That said, Spencer's songcraft, while always poignant, has grown immeasurably. Her focus lyrically and musically is sharper; more unsettling in terms of its ability to create indelible portraits of her protagonists and their constant hunger and yearning. Under Streetlight Glow is not a bright recording, its darkness and melancholy are pervasive. Spencer's Rare Birds are drummer/producer Bill Curtis, pianist Jesse Hrobar, David Gelting on upright bass, Matt Hendricks on guitar, and harmony vocalist Renee Hendrix. She also gets help from a small string section, a concertina, and a lap steel on some cuts. On album-opener "Alibi," Spencer yearns to solidify a love that is mercurial and disintegrating, even as she struggles to accept that demise. The title track, with its haunting acoustic guitars, backroom piano, brushed snare, and ghostly lap steel commences with the words: "Here I am, by my lonesome/laying low, laying low/Had enough, waitin' for my love to show/Under streetlight glow." The hurt in her voice saturates the track, but she shifts the narrative to an imaginary Brooklyn in 1940 to draw some metaphorical -- and perhaps metaphysical -- understanding of her longing and frustration. Other standouts include the lilting, parlor room country-rock in "Gone to France"; the languid "Red Sky," whose soulful vocal would carry the song's meaning even if she weren't singing words, and the skeletal "Carry Me On," on which Spencer, accompanying herself only on an acoustic guitar with Hendrix's deadpan harmony vocal, desires so ardently for the wind to carry away from an impossible situation; it feels like a prayer. Under Streetlight Glow makes no apologies for its melancholy; it is an album of meditation on longing, heartbreak, loss, and the difficult space between endings and starting over in the wreckage. The Rare Birds are a well-seasoned group who lend her all the support she needs without once pushing Spencer into emotional overload: they know these songs are loaded on their own. Under Streetlight Glow is a genuinely moving -- and beautifully performed -- record from start to finish.

Track Listing

1 Alibi
2 Under Streetlight Glow
3 Moth Met Spider
4 Hibernation
5 Go to France
6 Red Sky
7 While It's Shining
8 Carry Me Softly
9 Tried and True
10 Whiskey