For Andrew Bird, 2012 might very well be looked upon as the “year of looking back.” With this year’s earlier release Break It Yourself, the eclectic folk singer/songwriter dialed back his overdubbing and post-production mojo to create a simply arranged, tasteful collection of Americana folk rooted in the sounds of yesteryear.
Billed as a follow-up to that record, Hands Of Glory (releasing tomorrow), takes this trend even further. Recorded live with a small band around a single microphone placed in a barn, this 8-song mini-LP is little more than a collection of old country cover tunes and some tasteful re-arrangements of songs from Break It Yourself. And yet (for me, at least), the impact of these eight songs is spellbinding. Apparently, less really is more.
There are already some critics out there who question why this record was released separately from the earlier one, since it plays more like a “B-Sides” companion that perhaps could have been included as part of a “deluxe edition.” They claim that Hands Of Glory doesn’t stand up on its own, that it can only be understood in the context of Break It Yourself. I completely disagree with that statement. If I didn’t know who Andrew Bird was and I listened to this record, then admittedly I wouldn’t really have a clue as to what his actual range and diversity as an artist. But considering this record on its own, without any other context—it is actually quite magical. It is an experience in itself; it takes you someplace.
As for those of us who are familiar with Andrew Bird’s earlier stuff, Hands Of Glory reminds us of his true roots. Behind all the interesting sound manipulations he likes to do, Bird is a folk artist, and more than that, he’s an outstanding violin player. Both of these truths are made clear on this record for the simple fact that almost all the frills are removed. His rendition of the traditional country tune “Railroad Bill” is one of the high points of the record, and you don’t want to miss the short-but-sweet fiddle solo in the middle. “When The Helicopter Comes,” one of the few cuts that uses any amount of effect, sounds like it could have come right out of a 1950’s Sun Records recording session with it’s slap-back reverb, and the opening track “Three White Horses” is a great example of how haunting Bird’s vocals can be. And throughout the record, there are these glimpses of Bird’s own “hands of glory,” in the form of some great violin work.
True, this is not a record that reflects all of Andrew Bird’s creativity, nor is it meant to be—and those who are looking for the more eclectic side of him are likely to be disappointed. But by taking us back in time, and back to basics, Hands Of Glory shows us what is underneath all the studio experimentation. It is this stripped-back, raw, true talent that makes Andrew Bird the amazing artist he is.