Spires That in the Sunset Rise are one of the best bands hailing from the Midwest these days. Making up the Spires are a group of extremely talented women who, on their own, are just as impressive. Two members, Kathy Baird and Tarlie Dawn, have already produced mesmerizing solo records on par with anything Spires of done. Dawn, as Tarpet, has a beautiful album out on Eclipse while Baird's two self-released CD-Rs as Traveling Bell are getting the VIP treatment from Secret Eye. "Scatter Ways," the first of the two reissues, is an enchanted folk delight.
Where Spires That in the Sunset Rise often feel like a carnival sideshow of hypnotic horrors, Traveling Bell is its more serrene cousin. Baird's music is bathed in a wash of traditional music, especially that of the English countryside. Traveling Bell's stripped back approach is perfect as there is a whimsical aspect running underneath these songs that should not be obscured. Everything centers around Baird's beautiful vocals, though. Her voice is magic.
The simple acoustic trip that is "Through My Sleeves" is a perfect embodiment of Baird's sensibilities and abilities as an artist. Her voice hovers above the cacaphony of instrumentation from guitars, various percussive instruments, bells, and so on. At only 2:20, this song's effect reaches far beyond its time constraints. The music gives the impression of a traveling minstrel, exploring the country by foot with little more than a few bucks and an old beaten up guitar in hand.
Baird pushes this acoustic-themed whimsy throughout "Scatter Ways." She turns down the dissonance that is sometimes audible on her other album, "Lullaby for Strangers," and instead focuses on singular, simple moments. "Song for Eno" is like the moment before the sun pierces the horizon at dawn. It is anticipation defined. "Indecision Song," is the day that you realize autumn is finally here, but you can't decide if that's a good thing or not. It's always somewhat sad to say goodbye to summer, but after months of blistering heat, you welcome the golden hues and cooler temperatures. Baird finds these feelings, these universal instances we all know and feel, and puts them onto tape in stunning fashion.
In the end, "Scatter Ways" poses more questions than it answers. I find myself wondering just who Kathy Baird is and how she finds the soul of these often overlooked aspects of our lives and wittles them down into simple, beautiful songs. It's a talent, to say the least. Traveling Bell is a testament to the fact that the most artistic moments in our lives are the ones that happen naturally around us. Kathy Baird may be tapped into that more intensely than most of us, but that doesn't mean that by simply taking a few moments to reflect on what's happening around us can be more breathtaking than any record. That being said, Traveling Bell is making some damn fine records and constantly begging the question, "What next?" 8/10 -- Brad Rose (8 July, 2005)