Espers co-founder and songwriter Meg Baird wisely takes a stripped-down approach with her solo debut, Dear Companion. That turns out to be the right move, since a lush, multi-guest affair could have sounded like an Espers album, and the freak-folk scene doesn't need to be any more confusing. It also unmasks Baird's formidable songwriting skills. Each of Dear Companion's acoustic guitar-plus-voice songs feels as if it comes from another era, primarily the late-'60s heyday of British folk, with some '70 singer-songwriter touches thrown in for good measure. Whereas Baird's contemporaries in Lavender Diamond come across like a modern band simply appreciating the music of decades ago, Dear Companion genuinely sounds like a lost Fairport Convention recording.

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