Hands of Glory
Mom & Pop Music
Andrew Bird might, at first, have seemed like a gimmick – he maybe still does for anyone first discovering him: loop pedal, whistling, hipster poses and clothing, a hint of colonial throwback that might just be a bit too well manicured/mannered – well it could all seem like the sort of thing that Uncut magazine would call Album of the Month one issue then promptly forget straight after.
In the last year Bird delivered the staggering, gorgeous Break It Yourself – my favourite record of his career so far. It towers. The songs unfold and offer so much – you wonder, as they unravel, how he crammed it all into each composition and then made it seem so effortless but crafted; nothing hanging out sloppily over the side.
Well, companion album – or coda – Hands of Glory – a sort of bonus-edition EP that plays out to full length and actually stands on its own, arriving after and worth the money as its own offering – is the looser song set. Here the tracks don’t sprawl so much as crawl and creep and there are creaks and cracks and it’s less baroque, more country, more good-time wagon hitchin’/campfire fixin’. And you do get to see things spilling out over the side. And that’s fair enough – clearly, writing-wise/inspiration-wise, his cup runneth over. We should be able to see actual traces of that eventually.
But it’s also just another great set of songs. The fiddle set to soar on Railroad Bill, where for most of Break It you could argue the fiddle was set to stun.
Here he is all about the country/alt-country/Appalachian flavours – covering The Handsome Family and Townes Van Zandt, rewriting the dustbowl balladry that was, in part, an influence on him as an artist.
And when we get to the long, lo(o)ping closer, Beyond The Valley Of The Three White Horses we get to everything we know and expect from Andrew Bird. We’ve just taken an ever-so-slightly different route.
I was drawn in, at first, by the gimmick – you couldn’t not be the way I figure it: he can sing, write and play. And even if the earlier live shows where based around a bit of tummy-rubbing-while-head-patting then so be it. Each album shows he’s evolving. Never just repeating. And there’s more than enough here. Particularly since it’s (essentially) an afterthought; a set of leftovers or at least it could still be argued that, given Break It Yourself is clearly the masterpiece. Pretty fine set of second ideas here I say.