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Andrew Bird

+ {Andrew Bird’s Bowl Of Fire}

Once a member of modern swing-rock outfit SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS (as an auxiliary member) and ANDREW BIRD’S BOWL OF FIRE, the croaky singer/songwriter/violinist/whistler flits in and out of folk and indie rock music, at times in the old-timey traditional style.
Born Andrew Wegman Bird, July 11, 1973, Lake Forest, Illinois, it would be on 1996’s back-porch album MUSIC OF HAIR (recorded 1992) {*6} that the man would surface as a bona fide solo artist; three BOWL OF FIRE sets duly appeared on Rykodisc Records: THRILLS (1998) {*7}, OH, THE GRANDEUR (1999) {*7} and THE SWIMMING HOUR (2001) {*8}; the chamber-folk EP `The Ballad Of The Red Shoes’ broke the template once again.
Signed to Righteous Babe Records (home to ANI DiFRANCO, et al) and calling on retainer Kevin O’Donnell (his drummer from BOF) and singer Nora O’Connor (of The Blacks), WEATHER SYSTEMS (2003) {*8}, a record displaying dark and bright subject matter, while weeping and waltzing pizzicato violins complement the BIRD’s booming vox; example `Lull’ and his take of The HANDSOME FAMILY’s `Don’t Be Scared’. Sticking with Kevin and Nora for support, the same could be said for his follow-up ANDREW BIRD & THE MYSTERIOUS PRODUCTION OF EGGS (2005) {*8}, another slice of alternative rock with a hint of folk, ambitious and mesmerising through gems like `Sovay’, `The Naming Of Things’ and `Banking On A Myth’.
A switch to Fat Possum Records resulted in BIRD’s Top 100 breakthrough with 2007’s ARMCHAIR APOCRYPHA {*8}, another structurally sound expression of where the man was at; drummer and electric pianist Martin Dosh was on hand while bassist Chris Morrissey delivered turned up on five tracks; of the dozen tracks showcased `Armchairs’, `Fiery Crash’ and a revamp of `I’ from `Weather Systems’ (as `Imotosis’) come off best. NOBLE BEAST (2009) {*8} was another to free him from his indie-folk shackles and into the Top 20; the classic `Oh No’, the single `Fitz And The Dizzyspells’ and `Anoanimal’ finding a new audience among the wanton alt-rock brigade; for his folk and swing fans they could look to the schizoid 6-minutes of `Masterswarm’.
Incidentally, before BIRD took on his first OST to NORMAN (2011) {*6}, Fat Possum Records would bend to the official release of bonus “Noble Beast” disc, USELESS CREATURES (2010) {*6}, a sometimes stunning chamber-pop display of his virtuoso violin playing (`You Woke Me Up!’ and the 10-minute, ENO-esque `The Barn Tapes’, perfect Sunday Morning risers). As for the Jonathan Segal original film score (a coming-of-age teen drama), BIRD is primarily instrumental with the exception of songs performed by the Blow, RICHARD SWIFT and Chad VanGaalen, that add an exotic touch to his horizontal motifs.
Augmented by guitarist Jeremy Yivisaker and sticksman Martin Dosh, and mostly recorded live in his studio barn in Western Illinois, the ANDREW BIRD that fans had learned to love repaid their loyalty with a Top 10 entry, BREAK IT YOURSELF (2012) {*8}. At times encompassing aspects of cool country, calypso and Celtic, the record generally broods before it looks out into the morning light. Opener `Desperation Breeds’ showed off his pizzicato panache to a tee, whilst the happy-go-whistler `Danse Carribe’ perked up the listener with its sprite musicianship. Ditto `Lazy Projector’, `Near Death Experience Experience’, `Orpheo Looks Back’ and the heavenly 8-minute `Hole In The Ocean Floor’.
His third album release for Mom + Pop Records, HANDS OF GLORY (2012) {*7} – a companion piece to his previous set – its leftovers effect resulted in only the affiliated adding it to their collection. Despite this, established artist BIRD had another modest hit album on his hands. A rootsier affair that oozed old-timey in the traditional, CARTER FAMILY-ish `Railroad Bill’ and covers of TOWNES VAN ZANDT’s `If I Needed You’ and The HANDSOME FAMILY’s `When The Helicopter Comes’, maybe the reprised `Orpheo’ and the concluding, 9-minute `Beyond The Valley Of The Three White Horses’ (bookending the opening piece), elasticated its playing time, but it all seemed worth the effort.
Diverting his concerns to The HANDSOME FAMILY (again!), 2014’s alt-country covers album THINGS ARE REALLY GREAT HERE, SORT OF… {*7} completely dumbfounded reviewers in his commendable disregard for commerciality and compromise. Recorded on a tape machine in his L.A. living room, Rennie and Brett Sparks’ bank manager might’ve been a tad happier, but rarely had one witnessed a complete turnaround in an artist’s fate. And it was hardly unique, as JEFFREY LEWIS had ventured out in a similar pattern on “12 CRASS Songs”; note: RYAN ADAMS was yet to release his SPRINGSTEEN-like TAYLOR SWIFT homage a la `1989’. For “Things Are…”, troubadour ANDREW BIRD was the perfect country-folk match for songs such as `Tin Foiled’, `Giant Of Illinois’, `Don’t Be Scared’ (again!) and `My Sister’s Tiny Hands’, although one could only imagine how a version of `Weightless’ would’ve turned out.
Whether his momentum was lost on the mountainsides of the instrumental beauty that enriched the self-financed, new age-like ECHOLOCATIONS: CANYON (2015) {*6}, who knows, but when spring 2016 dawned, ANDREW BIRD was now struggling to hit the Top 50 with ARE YOU SERIOUS {*8}. Delivered for Loma Vista Records, the BIRD man of alcove tracks found his voice again on introspective songs like `Capsized’, `Left Hand Kisses’ (featuring FIONA APPLE), `The New Saint Jude’ (very PAUL SIMON) and `Valleys Of The Young’. Accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Blake Mills, keyboardist Patrick Warren, producer Tony Berg and mixing engineer Tchad Blake, all worked well within the climes of California and the added responsibilities of domestic life.
Getting back to nature again with ECHOLOCATIONS: RIVER (2017) {*7}, violin virtuoso Andrew B took his listeners on a different route from that of his previous location of Utah’s Coyote Gulch “canyon”, to the picturesque Glendale-Hyperion Bridge neighbourhood of Los Angeles, where he now resided. Eight free-flowing or pizzicato improvs that embraced the local birds (`The Cormorants’, `Lazuli Bunting’, `Black-Crowned Night-Heron’, `The Green Heron’ and `Dear Killdear’), the BIRD man of Atwater Village had ventured once again into cerebral terrain.
2019’s MY FINEST WORK YET {*7} set was the whistling BIRD man’s attempt to return to the mainstream. Sales of the self-proclaimed title were moderate compared to his heyday, and by and large the record had its moments via `Sisyphus’, `Bloodless’, `Fallorun’ and `Archipelago’. There was no doubting Andrew’s passionate poetry; reminiscent of the “Great Pretender” JACKSON BROWNE, whilst the plucky instrumentation and meditative moods also drew from the singer-songwriter seventies a la Laurel Canyon.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Apr2016-May2019

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