Once any recording artist has passed the ten-year mark, it often comes as a surprise to many fans for the artist to continue writing and conceptualizing new records on a consistent basis. Andrew Bird is no exception to this category. Even after sixteen years of songwriting, including various side projects and six solo studio albums, the violin virtuoso continues to demonstrate his expertise in fiddlestick techniques, leaving no margin for error on his newest release Hands of Glory. Serving as a companion piece to the well-received, experimental Break It Yourself released earlier this year, the new album continues with tracks that embrace folksy melodies infused with a country-western feel.
In his press release, Bird explained that on Hands of Glory he hoped to “adapt my music completely to the atmosphere of the space and the season.”
Bird accomplishes this aim from the get-go on the opening track “Three White Horses.” The slow drum beat and steady bassline, complemented by the muffled guitar pickings and Bird’s wails, bring to mind the imagery of a rustic pathway in the autumn: leaves turning gold and red and dancing erratically as they drift to the ground. He furthers this idea by the danceable, upbeat guitar and violin riffs on his cover of “Railroad Bill,” typical of the county fair ambience. Ironically, the song is as far away from family friendly, as Bird describes the narrator’s tale of violent revenge against Railroad Bill.
Bird also adds a reworking of Break It Yourself’s “Orpheo Looks Back” (titled “Orpheo”). While “Orpheo Looks Back” possesses a wild, more youthful essence with cheery whistles, “Orpheo” captures a slower and more tranquil style. With a sadly, sweet violin solo, prior to the last verses, the somber feel of “Orpheo” transitions listeners easily to the final track, the instrumental (plus uninterpretable croons from Bird) “Beyond the Valley of Three White Horses.”
While many of the tracks seem to prove themselves as “experimental” for their distance from Bird’s characterized folk tunes and structures that we are all familiar with, the recording process for Hands of Glory proves to be the most remarkable factor of the LP’s experimentation. Using only a single microphone with all acoustic instruments, Bird recorded the entire album in a church and barn with his live band (yes, those are actual crickets chirping outside on “Beyond the Valley of Three White Horses”). In doing so, the hollow-bodied “recording studios” provide the warm feeling of wide-open spaces and countryside romanticism that envelopes the songs on the album.
Although many listeners might view Hands of Glory as an EP instead of an album due to the new material being limited to two songs, Bird proves the new record to rightfully deserve the “album” label. All the songs on the record, including the covers of Townes Van Zandt, the Handsome Family, Alpha Consumer, and the Carter Family, as well as “Orpheo” and the new material, capture the overarching themes perfectly, an essential feature for any record. Whether or not this suffices for listeners, Hands of Glory proves itself as a remarkable work of auditory art, providing listeners an escape from their bores and worries to a picturesque, bucolic dreamland of folksy relaxation.
Andrew Bird – Hands of Glory tracklisting:
- “Three White Horses”
- “When That Helicopter Comes”
- “Railroad Bill”
- “Something Biblical”
- “If I Needed You”
- “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses”