Milwaukee native Heidi Spencer doesn’t blast through your speakers on her debut album. Instead, Spencer walks out from the stage wings modestly, accompanied primarily by a guitar and a piano, and a voice as smooth as the whiskey of which it sings.
Under Streetlight Glow is a collection of intimate songs written by Spencer during film school when she aspired to place her music in her film projects. The album sets a spacious scene with little accompaniment to Spencer’s vocals, which are a cross between Edie Brickell and Janis Joplin, full of soul with a carefree nature. Spencer effortlessly drifts between the upper and lower registers, but you won’t hear her belt out a line the way Joplin did at Woodstock. She is a little too shy for that.
Spencer’s voice fluctuates between full and thin just at the right moments while the guitar and piano combination behind her accommodates for the change. Though each instrument on its own would have been adequate, the two together create a rich, organic sound that makes you feel as if you were sitting with the group as it recorded. It’s the hushed feel of the album that makes this so, remaining very natural but clear. The little bits of added production here and there add some depth, but don’t take away from the field recording setting.
The first track of the album, “Alibi,” uses an acoustic guitar, piano and drums to fill in the spaces between Spencer’s vocals that penetrate the soundscape. It’s mellow but doesn’t lack in its drive as Spencer tells the story of staying in all day with a loved one. From here, the instrumentation doesn’t change much on the album, though the effects used on the various instruments create points of interests, like the sliding guitar on “Hibernation,” big bass drums in “While It’s Shining” and an unexpected accordion on “Go To France.”
Though Under Streetlight Glow is consistent throughout, it really starts to pick up in the last two tracks. On “Tried And True,” Spencer finally lets us past her wall, building up the music and adding strings that emphasize her emotion. Blended with the piano, the strings tell a heartbreaking story of their own in contrast to what Spencer is singing and follow their own melodic line. “Whiskey” follows, allowing Spencer to let go even more, letting her voice move however it sees fit through the chorus. Despite the new-found freedom, you can still sense Spencer’s restraint especially in contrast to the return of the freer-sounding slide guitar.
The instrumentation on the album is simple, but it really takes over in certain parts, providing the big sound that Spencer’s voice refuses to give. But the album maintains beauty in keeping its control, which may be Spencer’s plan all along. Perhaps she’s saving everything up for what’s to come.