Hands of Glory
Mom + Pop
Oct 26, 2012 Web Exclusive
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.
Nowhere is this more evident than in his stripped down version of "Orpheo." While lacking the meat of Break It Yourself's full band version, Bird's solo take shows off both his soulful violin lines and enticingly languorous vocals. Unhurried, the thoughtful lyrics become a heartfelt recollection rather than command
Given his proclivity for country-leaning tunes, it's no accident that Bird spends the album's eight tracks aligning himself with Americana royalty, both in spirit and in cover. The standout among these is The Handsome Family's "When the Helicopter Comes." No stranger to the group (he previously covered them on Weather Systems and 2009's Red Hot compilation, Dark Was the Night), Bird picks up the pace of the original, adding a Bob Dylan circa Desire intensity. Bird declines to ape previous versions of "If I Needed You," written by Townes Van Zandt and coaxed into notoriety by Emmylou Harris and Don Williams. Instead, he opts to replace Harris' indelible soprano with alternating pizzicato and multi-stop violin lines. Given his history for fresh takes on the historical genre, the only track that seems out of place is the self-consciously retro-bluegrass Ramblin' Jack Elliot cover, "Railroad Bill." Nothing is gained by the cover's inclusion; it's a breezy live-to-tape take that ends with the band cheering for themselves. But-like the album as a whole—it's a fun ride. (www.andrewbird.net)
Author rating: 6.5/10
Average reader rating: 7/10