Under Streetlight Glow
It’s said that no good movie—regardless of downbeat subject matter—is depressing, but all bad movies are depressing. The same, of course, could be said for music. Milwaukee’s Heidi Spencer may trade in musical tales of loss, but her music is anything but dispiriting. On Under Streetlight Glow—Spencer’s third album and first for label Bella Union—the singer and her Rare Birds instead make a strong case for the simple, unexpected, and life-affirming power of a sad song.
Spencer’s background in film may make it easy to label her music as “cinematic,” though the description is more than apt. (Streetlight takes its name from one of her short films.) “It’s 1940 in my mind,” Spencer croons on the title track, a song replete with nods to “film noir and antique cars.” Winning opener “Alibi” plays like a long-lost Super-8 movie, one highlighted by a gorgeous piano part and some playful finger-snaps during the verses. “Hibernation” is almost unbearably melancholy, and almost certainly the album’s high-water mark. Spencer’s voice is the main attraction throughout: husky, wistful, and unpredictable. The Rare Birds provide a gauzy, sepia-toned accompaniment, and give the otherwise sparse acoustic sketches a layer of musical sophistication and richness.
After a stellar opening half, Streetlight dims a bit in the middle, though closer “Whiskey” emerges as a bittersweet send-off, and stands as one of the album’s most quietly accomplished tracks. Flush with moody, dimly-lit sketches of love and lovers lost, Under Streetlight Glow nonetheless seems less concerned with the darkness, and more with the catharsis that comes just before the dawn.
(Heidi Spencer And The Rare Birds celebrate the release of Under Streetlight Glow Saturday night at Linneman’s.)