Chicago-based violinist Andrew Bird, who played with the
Squirrel Nut Zippers,
debuted solo at the age of 23 with Music of Hair (1996).
unpretentious folkish lullabies such as
and the showtune-like aria Pathetique,
the bulk and the highlights of the collection are
creative instrumentals such as
the bluesy sleepy Ambivalence Waltz,
the neoclassical melody mutating into devilish gypsy dance of Oh So Insistent,
the droning elegy Rhodeaoh,
the spirited and convoluted St Francis Reel and
the subliminal jazzy Oh So Sad.
The ten-minute Minor Beatrice is a fantasia that draws inspiration from
diverse sources such as Petr Tchaikovsky's ballet music and
His albums with the
Bowl of Fire
(whose main pillar was jazz drummer Kevin O'Donnell)
offer a brilliant mixture of vaudeville,
swing, and orchestral easy-listening, basically an extension of
the aesthetic of Minor Beatrice.
Harking back to the 1950s and even earlier,
Thrills (Ryko, 1998) delivered both instrumentals and songs.
The former include
the breathless dixieland dance of Minor Stab and
the frenzied polyrhythmic Caribbean dance Depression-Pasillo,
but overall are outnumbered by the latter.
The songs create a vaudeville show of sorts:
the cabaret-style skit Ides of Swing,
the feverish charleston rigmarole of Cock O' the Walk
the jumping/swinging tune Glass Figurine,
the polka-paced croon 50 Pieces,
the bluesy ballad A Woman's Life and Love (sung by Katharine Whalen),
the late-night rhumba of Eugene,
A rewriting of Pathetique for small ensemble and a "blacker" version of
Nuthinduan Waltz (both inferior to the originals) sound a bit out
of context in this nostalgia/revival tour de force.
The project retreated a bit from the nostalgia of Thrills but opted
more strongly for the cabaret/musical kind of atmosphere on
Oh The Grandeur (1999). That also meant a prevalence of songs over
Vidalia, Candy Shop, Wishing For Contentment
are witty and entertaining but overall the album is too much dejavu and too
Beware is the grand ode that should represent the zenith of pathos.
But only The Idiot's Genius displays the creative fusion of
jazz, classical, ethnic and easy-listening that made Bird's previous records
such a delight; and only the exotic instrumental
Coney Island Shuffle (the album's standout)
boasts the verve that made so many revival vignettes memorable.
The Swimming Hour (Rykodisc, 2001)
presented a much more powerful, rocking band, with a loud electric guitar
and Nora O'Connor almost stealing the show on backing vocals.
The very first song, Two Way Action, is a garage-rock bacchanal, but the
rest merges the sophisticated retro touches of the previous albums and the new
The band runs the gamut from
vibrant blues-rock (Satisfied) to
dreamy folk-rock (11:11) and
effervescent soul rave-up (How Indiscreet).
Core And Rind even evokes Donovan's psychedelic jazz-rock of the Sixties.
Despite the intentions, the band still tends to digress towards the nostalgic
the grand aria of Waiting To Talk,
the orchestral ballad with female choir Dear Old Greenland,
the crooned bluesy ballad Why?, the Caribbean Mersey-beat ditty Case In Point,
the trombone-paced ragtime Too Long and
and especially the gallopping country-western rigmarole Way Out West.
But the investment is still mainly in songs, with the instrumental parts
a mere side dish.
The spartan mini-album Weather Systems (Grimsey, 2003)
failed to introduce new
elements, and in fact reduced the stylistic range of the previous album, but
still offered the gloomy Tom Waits-ian meditation I and the
Mark Kozelek-ian litany Lull.
Bird returned to the sound of the Bowl of Fire with the dizzying stylistic
The Mysterious Production Of Eggs (Righteous Babe, 2005), a collection
of elegant and catchy ditties
that sound like the ultimate synthesis of the decade:
Sovay (quasi-jazz phrasing over nocturnal drum brushes and tinkling piano),
A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left (a witty catalog of vocal and instrumental violations of the rules of pop songwriting),
The Naming of Things (the most regular melodic progression).
His songs mostly sound like detours of a career that does not want to grow up:
the fairy tale Measuring Cups,
or the hodge-podge of arrangements of Banking On A Myth,
or Opposite Day, the ultimate joke, that sounds like the deconstruction of Beatles stereotypes.
Bird has un uncanny sense of how to remodel the old-fashioned (the bucolic whistling in the Donovan-esque Masterfade,
the exotic merry-go-round of Fake Palindromes,
the crooning and string counterpoint of Tables And Chairs)
that he translates into sonic delight.
Will Oldham is the troubadour of alt-country,
Jeff Buckley was the intimate psychologist,
Devendra Banhart is the gentle psychedelic bard,
Rufus Wainwright is the sophisticated popsmith.
Andrew Bird is all of them at the same time: master of deeply-felt singing,
master of layered arrangements, master of lyrical imagery,
master of celestial melodies, master of the bizarre
and of the subtle.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Walter Romano) |
Il violinista di Chicago Andrew Bird, che aveva suonato con gli Squirrel Nut Zippers, debuttò da solista con Music of Hair (1996).
I suoi album con i Bowl of Fire (il cui leader era il batterista jazz Kevin O'Donnell) offrono un brillante mix di cabaret, musica da ballo, jump blues, Appalachian folk, swing e easy listening orchestrale: Thrills (1998) e Oh The Grandeur (1999), con Candy Shop. The Swimming Hour (2001) segnò l’apice formale della band (specie Nora O'Connor nei cori), che indulgeva al garage-rock (Two Way Action), al blues (Why?), alla musica caraibica (11:11), al rhythm'n'blues (How Indiscreet), alla ballata orchestrale (Dear Old Greenland), o a brevi canzoni come Way Out West e Waiting to Talk.
Lo spartano mini-album Weather Systems (2003) fallì nell’introdurre nuovi elementi, e infatti ridusse la gamma stilistica rispetto all’album precedente, offrendo comunque la cupa meditazione Waitsiana I e la litania alla Mark Kozelek Lull.
Bird tornò al sound dei Bowl of Fire col vortice stilistico di The Mysterious Production Of Eggs (2005), una collezione di canzoni eleganti e orecchiabili (A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left, The Naming of Things, Fake Palindromes) che sembrano la sintesi definitiva del decennio. Will Oldham è il trovatore dell’alt-country, Jeff Buckley è stato profondo psicologo, Devendra Banhart garbato bardo psichedelico, Rufus Wainwright sofisticato artigiano del pop. Andrew Bird è tutte queste cose insieme: maestro del canto profondo, degli arrangiamenti, dell’immaginario lirico, delle melodie celestiali, della bizzarria e della delicatezza.