Usually, when sampling an album for the first time, I head straight to the title track. In theory, it's the one which the artist associates most with the mood of the album, the track they're most proud of, and often, it's also a single and shows the artist in their most positive light. I have to say, this is true of Under Streetlight Glow, Heidi Spencer's new release. Second in the tracklisting of the new album, 'Under Streetlight Glow' is a mournful, bluesy 4 minutes, encapsulating the mood of the surrounding 34 minutes almost perfectly. However, nothing quite meets its standard as later fillers merge together.

Heidi Spencer & the Rare Birds are Heidi Spencer (singer and guitarist), Bill Curtis (drums), Matt Hendricks (guitar), Renee Patt (harmony), Jess Hrobar (piano/harmony) and Dave Gelting (contrabass), based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 70 miles north of Chicago, an undisputed Mecca for the blues. Since the first half of the 20th century, blues has touched the souls of millions of people, combining imagery from destitute emotional lives and backgrounds of performers with the simple effectiveness of attention-catching sevenths and power chords, aptly named.

Under Streetlight Glow draws on blues, American folk and country from well before grunge's raw distortion and hip hop's synthesised beats; it is an album of derivative melancholy, carried by an inexpertly strummed acoustic guitar and supportive piano, a range of instruments integrated into the pleasant backing. However, except for in the title track, these instruments rarely compete enough to stand out, or say enough to truly be heard.

It's the same for the lyrics. When listening to Spencer, I imagined a singer-songwriter making up lines without too much thought, singing to the four walls of her bedroom in a trance, allowing these vapid tales out of her bedroom in a kind of calculated statement against profundity. It's true, some of the best blues and folk is written in the simplest sentences (take a listen to John Lee Hooker's The Healer, an album of skilful guitar licks and catchy hooks, but also deeply moving, simple lines like "My woman left me" and "Ya-eeh-yeh-eh-eh-eeh".)

However, some of the worst lyrics are also written in the simplest sentences; a balance between simplicity, vocal prowess and soulfulness needs to be struck, and it's something I don't think Heidi Spencer quite manages. Sometimes, her almost whispery tone is effective, as on 'Under Streetlight Glow', but breathiness does not guarantee depth: hackneyed moans of "I loved him more, ain't nobody else" on 'Moth Met Spider' are too vague to connect with, not sung well enough to evoke emotions. It feels like she has little to say - yet the rest of the backing isn't good enough to allow for lyrical weakness.


he music is nice, but inoffensive, with occasional (arguably) mistaken instrumental choices: the queasy guitar slides on 'Whiskey' are only to the detriment of its mood, and a strange, unnecessary wooden block percussive sound is just... well, annoying, in opener 'Alibi'.

There is something to be said for simple music, written by real people about real experiences. It's something to instantly comprehend, an immediate empathy all of us need from time to time. But, as Jimi Hendrix said, blues is 'easy to play, but hard to feel', which can apply to American folk too, and the simplicity of Under Streetlight Glowleads to it seeming dispassionate - Spencer's expression is at times lacking sparkle, so the music fades into the background despite being a nice listen whilst you were paying attention.