Album Reviews

Heidi Spencer – Under Streetlight Glow

(Bella Union) UK release date: 17 January 2011

Heidi Spencer is an exciting prospect; a real life troubador, she’s a travelling singer/songwriter and film school graduate from Milwaukee, who’s been quietly touring across America for years. Under Streetlight Glow is her third album but the first to be released on our shores, and it was picked up by no less than Bella Union, home to the likes of Fleet Foxes and Midlake. The names Joanna Newsom, Dolly Parton and Edie Brickell have been thrown at her and she describes herself as “eccentric”. What’s not to like?

Well, nothing really. The problem is there’s not much to fall in love with either. It starts off well with opening track Alibi, a simple song with lolling guitars, clicking fingers and her husky, verge-of-tears voice is showcased beautifully with her opening gambit, “No one needs to know, we laid around all day, let’s make up a good alibi, let’s take it to the grave.” She might sound like butter wouldn’t melt but Alibi is a satisfyingly minxy track about an illicit encounter. As a wide-eyed Spencer purrs her way through the description of her master plan, it somehow gets under your skin, its soothing simplicity making her girlish, raspy vocals all the more poignant.

Go To France is another moment made brilliant by the battling juxtaposition of her voice and music. This time she prettily sings of wanting to get away from life, telling a fellow bar fly: “You are not alone tonight with your empty glass… Oh what’s your pleasure, what’s your plan, if we knew each other we could go to France, we could dance all day and waltz away.” Her fantasies are accompanied by a cocktail of bizarrely arranged guitar and mandolin which eventually gives way to a waltzing accordion. Its the only song on Under Streetlight Glow that lives up to her promises of eccentricity, and offers a frustrating glimpse at what could be.

Despite some encouraging song titles (Red Sky, Whiskey, Moth Met Spider…) the rest of the album fails to hit the spot. Hints of country, jazz and blues seep into her folk themes, but without the quirks and eccentricities of Go To France and Alibi, what’s left is a voice that becomes a bit too sickly sweet to stomach.

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Heidi Spencer – Under Streetlight Glow