Release Date: Oct 30, 2012
Record label: Mom & Pop Music
Hands of Glory, the companion to this year’s Break It Yourself, is an imaginative interpretation of Andrew Bird’s work viewed through the lens of folk tradition. The album reworks songs like “Orpheo Looks Back,” and reinvents others by artists like The Carter Family, making them relevant today in terms of sound and context. However, Bird stays true to his whimsical and intricate style while embracing the limitations of recording an acoustic set circled around a single microphone.
Judging by his output over the past few years, listeners might begin to believe that Andrew Bird is a recording machine. With at least one studio or live release offered in almost every year for a decade, it would seem as if the seasoned string master never strays too far from his recording equipment. Bird’s latest, Hands of Glory is a sequel of sorts to this year’s highly regarded Break It Yourself.
Assuming the Mayans and your particularly obnoxious Facebook friends were right all along and the world is actually ending on Dec. 21, then no one can say Andrew Bird wasted his last year of life on earth as we know it. The past 12 months have been quite busy for the songwriter and Victrola enthusiast: he’s launched a sonic art exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; toured quite a bit; released a sleepy, lovely full-length called Break It Yourself and, as the year winds down, is releasing a companion EP, Hands Of Glory, touring quite a bit still and re-launching his “Gezelligheid” concert series, a handful of very intimate shows at churches in Chicago and New York with stripped-down instrumentation.
Andrew Bird's music is in part defined by the way he marries the traditions of the fiddle and violin-- two very different styles played on the same instrument. If March's Break It Yourself was his violin album, full of careful pop-leaning arrangements, then Hands of Glory is its fiddle complement. It's a set of rustic songs born of his old-timey live sets as well as the loose sessions at his barn in western Illinois, on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Arriving just eight months after the whistling bard's sixth studio album, 2012's Break It Yourself, the eight-track companion piece Hands of Glory forgoes its predecessor's predilection for quirky, albeit homey, slabs of stately, professorial indie folk-pop in favor of a more authentic and rootsy approach. Produced in the same Luddite fashion as Break It Yourself (old pals, old barn), Hands of Glory takes that austerity one step further by recording all of the proceedings on a single microphone, resulting in a set that sounds both out of time and incredibly immediate. The immersion lends itself well to new originals like the spooky, hymn-like "Three White Horses," the drought-provoked "Something Biblical," and the Carter Family-inspired "Railroad Bill," all three of which swap Bird's more experimental tendencies for a foundation that's firmly rooted in tradition, be it country, folk, or gospel.
Andrew Bird’s Break It Yourself, released earlier this year, was a collection of light alterna-folk songs that found the Chicago multi-instrumentalist dabbling in experimental song structures and extemporaneous flourishes. Bird’s approach was a stark move away from the more polished work of his previous albums, and if Hands of Glory is any indication, his strides toward immaculate but unadorned performances continues unabated. Along the way, Bird has added a touch of gravitas to his music: Though both are steeped in dirt-streaked Americana, Hands of Glory is the dark, smoky barnyard to Break It Yourself‘s warm farmhouse, an altogether moodier and more meticulous venture than its impulsive predecessor.
Andrew BirdHands of Glory[Mom + Pop; 2012]By Ray Finlayson; October 31, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetWhether he’s touring, writing and recording, or releasing records, near enough every year seems a busy one for Andrew Bird. 2012 has felt like a particularly assiduous year for him, though. It all seemed to kick off back in March when he dropped his latest album, Break It Yourself, which satisfied most of his fan base, if not lulling those not regular to him into a disinterested state.
All his rock posturing, live sampling, and Doctor Seussian linguistics has failed to hide one simple fact: violinist Andrew Bird is a folkie. Released as a chaser to this year's earlier, chilled-out effort Break It Yourself, Hands of Glory sees Bird in his natural habitat, a child of the soil rather than the stage. Although the album lacks Bird's innovative overdubs and multiple instrumental lines, what's gained is clarity—and proof positive that Bird may be one of the finest performers working today, regardless of genre.
Back at the turn of the year, Andrew Bird’s seventh studio longplayer Break It Yourself was released to the usual clamour of praise. By resisting the urge to execute his usual repertoire of musical back-flips, pirouettes and double rolls, the Illinois-born songsmith landed an album with mass-appeal. Add to this his whistle-lipped mentorship of Kermit in the Muppets' latest box-office smash, and you could say it’s been a pretty good year for Mr Bird.
This eight track, 35 minute set is more of a stop-gap companion piece to Bird’s Break it Yourself release from earlier this year. There are two new songs, a few from the album that are rearranged in a more traditional style and some covers that are likely concert favorites. It’s bookended by the opening “Three White Horses” and closing “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses,” the latter an extended nine minute dreamy instrumental interpretation of the former.
The best of Andrew Bird’s heady output has indulged a fetishism of old-fashioned, folk music, paired with idiosyncratic, philosophic lyrics that dive headlong into post-modern pondering. Though rooted in traditional instrumentation and twee peacefulness, Bird’s introspective wondering kept things from bounding entirely into the past. Contemplating things like zeroes and ones floating through the sky on the glorious “Masterfade”, and analyzing self-analysis on the re-cyclical trio of “I”, “Imitosis”, and this year’s “Eyeoneye”, Bird’s neuroses twisted tried and true formations into something unique and beautiful, more than the sum of its parts.
Andrew Bird's March release, Break It Yourself, climbed the Billboard Top 10 and prompted the Chicago whistler's whirlwind of late-night television appearances. Always the overachiever, the fiddler and multi-instrumentalist has something more. Companion piece Hands of Glory restructures the old and new alike in dusty-trail cowboy swag. "Three White Horses" opens on strolling bass, lapsing into a ghostly lonesome and pulls back into a marched and swelling final chorus.