Regardless of the haunted fraglity of much of their music, Big Thief continue to race forwards creatively at a breakneck pace. Since 2018 there have been three albums by the New York-based quartet (including last year’s 20-song epic Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You), plus three solo albums from singer Adrianne Lenker, and this is guitarist Buck Meek’s third solo work too.
The band have made much of their status as a close-knit democracy of friends, which can’t be easy when Lenker and Meek are divorced, so you’d expect their solo material to be the place where egos can be permitted to swell. But even here, though he must enjoy the final say, the Texan remains in service to the work of others.
Five songs were written with Jolie Holland, another Texan and an early member of The Be Good Tanyas, who Meek acknowledges in the credits as “one of my heroes since childhood”. The music was recorded live with the same musicians – Adam Brisbin on guitar, Austin Vaughn on drums and Mat Davidson on pedal steel – who have backed him since his solo debut, and the sound here is a much fuller, whole band effort than on past releases.
He also stood aside to channel the spirit of a late legend for the closing song, The Rainbow. A team making a documentary about the singer-songwriter Judee Sill gave him access to her journals, and he chose some lyrics written just weeks before her death in 1979 to create an optimistic acoustic finale: “Could hope through the sky stream?/As the rainbow grew, could a dream come true?”
The positivity is audible throughout the album in lyrics rich with nature imagery and filled with the buoyancy of new love. “A home in roses made of light/I see it in your eyes,” he sings over softly picked electric guitar on Paradise. Over the carefree country strum of Cyclades he sings specific details about road accidents involving his parents, but it’s really a story about the way memories shift as we age.
He allows the guitar to feel more dominant here than he has on earlier solo work and most of Big Thief’s material. Undae Dunes opens with a wild squall, and Where You’re Coming From builds to a long, rasping solo. The extra volume makes his thin voice sound like the weak link, but the general upbeat feel of the music means he’s always pleasant company.