ICYMI: Andrew Bird's 'Hands of Glory'

By Brandon Hook 11-09-2012
Courtesy of Andrew Bird's Facebook page.

'Hands of Glory' sees the indie star engage with stripped down blues and country tunes. Courtesy of Andrew Bird's Facebook page.

If you were overwhelmed by all that election business, you might have forgotten that October just happened, and with it came a new release from one of my personal favorite musicians, Andrew Bird.

Hands of Glory, Andrew Bird’s latest record and companion to March’s Break it Yourself, is the product of a pair of recording sessions prompted by an immense response to Bird’s “old-time” sets on recent tours.

Reinterpreting songs from Break It Yourself and featuring covers of classic country tunes, these “old-time” performances find Bird and his full band playing to a single microphone with an entirely acoustic setup.

Drawing inspiration from these sets, Hands of Glory features two brand new original tracks, a new interpretation of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and covers of Van Zandt, the Handsome Family, Alpha Consumer and others.

The results are fantastic.

While Bird opts for a stripped down sound, his signature is still more than present on Hands of Glory, and his melancholic, whistle-laden style blends surprisingly well with bluegrass and country, especially on tunes like “Railroad Bill.” A classic bluesy chord progression twice makes way to a bouncy fiddle solo with occasional hollers in the background adding a sense of depth and rawness. At one point, Bird yells, “I got a .38 special in a .45 frame” — a line I’d never expect from a man known for singing about plasticities, neurons, and cataracts (see breakout 2007 album Armchair Apocrypha). But Bird manages to pull it off with ease.

With Bird’s fiddle featured alone on tracks like “If I needed You,” Glory certainly feels more intimate. And as the music ends on “Railroad Bill” we’re left with someone saying, “swish,” and a few laughs, making us feel like we’re right there in the recording process.

In that same vein, Bird has added more intimate solo Gezelligheid — a Dutch term loosely translated as “cozy” — performances this winter, bringing them to Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church Dec. 19-21 and New York’s Riverside Church Dec. 10-11. The performances will concentrate mainly on instrumental violin pieces amplified only by Bird’s signature giant Victrola horns.

“What I hope to do with these shows is adapt my music completely to the atmosphere of the space and the season,” Bird said. “I want the audience to be both lifted and comforted as we head into another cold and dark winter. I feel the space should be sacred so the audience can experience my music in a different atmosphere.”

Indeed, the music is perfect for wrapping up in a blanket and sitting by the fire on a dark winter evening.

Brandon Hook is the Online Assistant at Sojourners. 

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