In our MKE Music Rewind series, we revisit a notable Milwaukee song that was released before Milwaukee Record became a thing in April 2014.
Every few years or so, there’s a Milwaukee artist that seems to be Everywhere. These artists are known to play a ton of local (and national) shows, garner a ton of local (and national) press, and put out a record that has a real chance of breaking into the mainstream. Think of recent folks like Vic & Gab (now known as REYNA), Chris Porterfield, WebsterX, and, in 2019, Abby Jeanne. But back in 2010 and 2011, that inescapable Milwaukee artist, that Milwaukee artist that was Everywhere, was Heidi Spencer.
Spencer was already a fixture of the Milwaukee music scene by the time she was Everywhere. The daughter of late Milwaukee folk singer Jim Spencer, Heidi had come up through the Linneman’s school of open-mic singer-songwriters, and had graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in film. Both would serve her well: her first two albums, 2003’s Matches And Valentines and 2005’s The Luck We Made, were cinematic slices of sepia-toned acoustic Americana that highlighted the singer’s dreamy, heavy-lidded voice. But it was her 2011 release, Under Streetlight Glow, that proved to be her breakthrough.
For starters, the record was released on Bella Union, a label that was home to groups like Fleet Foxes, Beach House, and Andrew Bird. A flood of press and national showcases followed. And then there was the fact that the record was really, really good: Along with her band The Rare Birds, Spencer had honed her sound and had delivered an album filled with songs of sadness and hope, heartbreak and love. It’s hard to pick just one standout track from Streetlight, but opener “Alibi”—with its woozy stops and starts and its Addams Family snaps—will have to do. (The Spencer-directed video is equally evocative, serving as a lovely time capsule of Riverwest in the early part of the decade.)
Also, how great are those opening lyrics? “No one needs to know / We laid around all day.”
Spencer released a worthy follow-up album in 2014, Things I Remember Golden, but has been quiet in recent years. New music may or may not be in her future (please let it be the former), but it’s comforting to go back to a time, not that long ago, when she was Everywhere.