Andrew Bird has been a busy man over the past few years. Since breaking away from his band Bowl of Fire to continue his solo career, his profile has shot up; making several critically acclaimed albums as well as contributing to the Red Hot HIV benefit compilation Dark Was The Night, which featured artists such as Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire.
Earlier this year he released his lauded sixth album Break It Yourself, and before getting even a wink of sleep, a ‘companion’ album called Hands of Glory has been unveiled. Recorded in a barn with one microphone, it seems that Bird has gone all out. Whether it actually flourishes is another matter.
Opening with Three White Horses we are immediately taken to the vast expanse of the American West. The dark undertones show a grounded side of Bird, known more for his light-hearted eccentric folk. However, the little idiosyncrasies do somewhat shine through miniscule cracks; these gradually get wider as the album meanders on.
Spirograph, for example, is layered with Bird’s reputable violin, which is given a wonderful country twist on his cover of Railroad Bill, working both with the old-fashioned country vibe and Bird’s raw dynamic.
The second half of the album does not stray too far into new terrain, and remains quite merged within the real Western feel of the album. Orpheo, a gorgeous number, produces a seductive melody with a strumming guitar and Andrew Bird’s trademark pizzicato. “If it drives you mad, it’ll probably pass.” There is also time for his reputable nuanced experimentation, with his voice synchronising perfectly with the sound of his violin.
Bird also plays around on closing track Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses, which is essentially the opener, albeit extracted and tinkered to seduce the listener in a different way.
One has to bear in mind that Hands of Glory is a connecting piece to Andrew Bird’s previous effort. But as a stand alone work, it wreaks of the quality and authenticity that is true of most of his output.
However, it remains something that could have been more, something that strives to push a bit further. But despite its flaws, it is a raw effort that feels genuine and heartfelt – in short, real country music.