Freak folk’s most recent wave may have long since crested, but Meg Baird, one sixth (depending on how you look at it) of psych troupe Espers, is back with Seasons On Earth, her first solo effort since 2007’s Dear Companion. The Philadelphia native’s newest release sees her still firmly ensconced in the folk/country niche, with a few more guests than last time around, although you’d be hard pressed to guess it.

It’s important to note that Seasons On Earth is nearly entirely composed of original work from Baird, where Dear Companion comprised of covers and arrangements of traditional songs. Hearthside minimalism has always been a distinct facet of Baird’s music, if not with Espers then certainly in her solo work, and Seasons On Earth certainly finds Baird fleshing out her arrangements in places, which is thoroughly welcome here, where it wouldn’t perhaps have made sense on Dear Companion. Lapsteel on the opening ‘Babylon’ and ‘The Finder’ helps bring out those plaintive country airs, whilst the electric haze that envelops parts of ‘Stream’ provides the kind of tripped out tones Espers fans might be more familiar with. Similarly, Baird’s guitar playing, which echoes the studied fingerpicking of Nick Drake or Bert Jansch (with whom she’s toured), sometimes lays on so many notes and chord changes that it practically accompanies itself, and at times it’s difficult to not marvel at the fingers behind it.

But where Seasons On Earth does contain added nuance in terms of instrumentation, it can present a daunting listen. Despite the record’s thoroughly gorgeous melodic bent, the songs here do have a tendency toward indistinctness. Maybe I’m missing the point – perhaps the record is intended for turning on and tuning out – but simply, over the course of the Seasons On Earth’s fifty minutes, songs seem to run into each other. Whilst the sliding, droney lead lines on the seven and a half minute ‘Stars Climb Up The Vine’ provide some shading, it does remain a particularly subtle, seven and a half minute folk song, amongst nearly an hour of subtle folk songs. It seems a shameful thing to say about Baird’s first solo full length of original work, but for me, the record’s standout is its cover of House of Love’s ‘Beatles and Stones’, which foregoes the sappy shuffle of the original for a stark, deathly realism that carries particular weight in the context of Seasons On Earth as a whole.

It seems unlikely that maintaining constant and fierce contact was ever Baird’s intention, and listening to Seasons On Earth as an atmospheric work can present a more rewarding endeavour than taking the record as song-oriented. However, whilst Seasons On Earth is for the most part unrelentingly lovely and even timeless, its length and unadorned nature can easily result in the loss of its listeners’ attention, and as such the blurring together of the album’s component parts. There’s no way to fault Baird’s voice or playing, but as a collected body of work, Seasons On Earth can be just a little too dense to hack into.