Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…
It makes so much sense to hear this, to have this – Andrew Bird covering songs by The Handsome Family. It makes so much sense that anyone who knows Bird’s work already probably knows the Handsomes (or vice versa) and probably, therefore, has some idea as to how this might play out. You can, I’m sure, hear in your head the sound of this record before you give it a whirl. But then, when you do get to giving it a spin, it’s no disappointment at all, it is the match made in heaven that – were these two big mainstream acts – could otherwise seem like a gimmick, a wee stretch of marketing.
But when you know their work – and the fact that they have sorta grown up together musically, mixed in similar circles, shared bills, collaborated on tracks (Bird has already covered a few Handsome songs for tribute discs and in live shows) it makes even more sense to hear this, to have this.
Add to that the direction that Bird’s own music has been drifting toward. Whether whistling, singing, strumming, picking, plucking or singing, Bird has made gorgeous music across a small handful of only loosely connected styles and one of his most recent EPs hinted toward a wagon-hitchin’ approach, an almost neo-traditionalism, faithful but fresh.
The Handsome Family material works in his hands for two obvious reasons – he’s a clever, skilled, versatile musician, he knows the work and treats it with respect; outside of that he’d probably turn musical silk purses from any dirge-like sow’s ear. But The Handsome Family songs are tunes that stay written; as great as they are they’re also adaptable – and Bird and band gently coax and twist these songs into a few new shapes. His voice adds a warmly cooed croon where Brett Sparks’ baritone can sometimes (wonderfully) seem so sinister.
On the back of nailing the True Detective theme this is another coup for The Handsome Family and their strong catalogue of the best brand-new old-time songs. And it’s a fine continuation for the great form that Bird has been in across recent releases. If anything the only trouble here is that the target market already expected this to be great. And it is. No surprise then. But certainly there should be no disappointment whatsoever.