Andrew Bird - Hands Of Glory
Record Label: Mom + Pop
Release Date: October 30, 2012
We meet again, Mr. Bird. Merely months after his spectacular Break It Yourself, Andrew Bird has decided to grace us with his musical presence once again and has released a 'companion' album in the form of Hands Of Glory. Less a fully-fledged album and more a collection of bits and bobs,Hands Of Glory is the cheese to Break It Yourself's wine and is yet another reminder of why Andrew Bird is one of the best, and most underrated, songwriters of our generation.
It's impossible to review Hands Of Glory without reference to Break It Yourself. Whilst Hands Of Glory still has the beautiful arrangements, gorgeous vocals and poetic lyrics of its predecessor, it has a far more intimate, warm feel to it. It also has a heavier focus on Bird's country side, with the record not only sounding like a country album, but featuring covers of the likes of The Handsome Family and Townes Van Zandte. Opener, "Three White Horses" is simply beautiful. Steeped in melancholy, it's an impossibly sad song, which benefits from an extremely subtle build up and crescendo. The lyrics concern death and Bird's voice, both emotional and technically excellent, sounds better than ever.
It's strange in a way how, whilst this album sounds like it was recorded by a bunch of cowboys around a fire, it still has a lonely feel to it. This ability to evoke such distinct atmospheres as well as emotions is yet another reason why Bird is such an amazing songwriter. Songs such as the aforementioned opener and the stripped back "Orpheo" could very easily evoke tears from a listener who was in the best of moods minutes before hearing the record. “Orpheo”, a re-invention of Break It Yourself’s “Orpheo Looks Back” is gut-wrenchingly sad. Its simple finger-picked guitar creates a great contrast with Bird’s smooth but tired sounding vocals. The repetition of lyrics such as ‘it’ll drive you mad’ and the somewhat rough fiddle playing makes it seem so imperfect and gloriously sad. By the time that Bird’s falsetto kicks in, you’ve probably cried enough to satisfy even Mr Timberlake.
Tracks such as “When That Helicopter Comes” and “Railroad Bill” are full out country music – no alt prefix involved here. Excellently executed, they are exactly what country music should sound like and could possibly gain Bird some new fans. Closer “Beyond The Valley Of The Three Horses” is by far the longest track of the release and returns a little more to the polished leanings of Break It Yourself. The song possibly outstays it welcome a little, however it almost serves as a passing over from this section of Andrew Bird’s musical career to the next, with its transition from violin and finger-picked guitar to an almost ambient vibe.
So, did we need two releases from Mr Bird in one year? Well, no. Hands Of Glory doesn’t particularly expand upon what Bird has previously done. This isn’t a plaything release for him to exercise his more experimental side, it’s a straight up Andrew Bird release. However, Hands Of Glory is beautiful. Whilst most artists couldn’t hope to put out music as good as this in the entirety of their career, Bird has managed it twice in one year. Hands Of Glory is yet another right step in a discography which is yet to falter or fail. This is as essential as a bits and bobs album comes.