It’s not very often that I think of music as being “timeless.” That doesn’t mean I won’t be listening to Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There?” when I am (hopefully) 80 or 85, but I don’t expect that the majority of my peers, by the time we hit that age, would necessarily agree with my song choice. However, Andrew Bird’s new album Hands of Glory, out October 30th, is exactly that: timeless. (See? I didn’t use quotes that time.)
The album makes me feel like I am at home, mentally and spiritually, with its deep Southern-rooted tones and the down-home feeling that is injected into most of Hands of Glory. If you grew up in the South like I did or have an affinity for Southern culture, country music, or gospel hymnals, this album will likely trigger your hippocampus to flood your brain with sentimental memories and heartfelt nostalgia.
Early this year, Andrew Bird released a very good album entitled Break it Yourself, which was a wonderful mix of indie rock, pysch rock jam sessions, and country music that has since become one of my favorite albums of the year. Hands of Glory is meant to be a companion piece to Break it Yourself and is a byproduct of the responses Bird got from his “old time” sets from recent tours (when I say “old time,” what I mean is one microphone and lots of positioning!). What you end up with is a daydream-like music experience that transports your mind to another time period and leaves you hopeful for a genre (country) that has been artistically neglected for what seems like two decades.
Album opener, the new Bird song “Three White Horses,” sets the tone for the album overall with its slow, sweet molasses-like rhythm section accompanied by bright, twangy, jangling leads and amazing violin fills and runs. “Helicopters,” a song originally written by the Handsome Family, is one of several covers on the album and dives deeper into the country genre, picking up a bit of a rebel feeling. I have only heard live versions of the original, but I would have to say that Bird has done the song justice in his interpretation, just as he did with my favorite song off Hands of Glory, “Spirograph.” That one is a cover of a song by Alpha Consumer, and while it has the same country flare as the rest of the songs on the album, it is the first track done in a ballad style and is a beautiful organic journey both musically and lyrically.
“Railroad Bill” is probably the most fun song on the album. It has a backbeat that never quits, a fiery rhythm that could power a steam engine, and a violin breakdown worthy of any barn or contra dance you could imagine. “Something Biblical” is another original that Bird wrote during the drought that plagued much of the country this past summer. Bird says, “I started writing in July well into the severe drought that hit the Midwest this summer. I kept having dreams of a great flood. Nothing biblical — just a local deluge. The day we left the barn, it rained pretty hard.”
“If I Needed You,” a cover originally written by Townes Van Zandt, is my second favorite song off Hands of Glory. Andrew Bird does a marvelous job in covering this folk song and really shows emotion on this track. The song starts with a deep, passionate violin intro that unfolds into a lush traditional country format of fat-bottom bass and sultry, twang-laden vocals.
“Orpheo” is a new interpretation of the wonderful song “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself. Gone is the upbeat violin raking and string plucking, and the overall tone of the song has been brought down to match the slower country/folk vibe of Hands of Glory.
“Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses” is an magnificently ambitious 9:16 closing piece for Hands of Glory that ties together the entire sonic journey of the album. It’s not often these days that we get country music that is well thought out and an outlet for experimentation, but with “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses,” you get all of these things.
Bird has essentially, in my opinion, made THE country album of the year with Hands of Glory on top of already releasing another AOTY worthy effort, Break it Yourself, earlier this year. If 2012 is an indication of the direction that Bird is planning to take in 2013, then I believe we are all in store for many more fantastic releases from this artist. Whether it be country, folk, blues, or rock, Andrew Bird seems to have his own unique formula for success within each genre he has experimented with, which begs the question: which genre will be next?
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