Andrew Bird: Hands of Glory
Andrew Bird: Hands of Glory — Hands of Glory, the follow up to Break it Yourself continues on the path of trying to prove that less is more. This album, recorded in a barn with group takes from a single well placed microphone is more of an homage than anything. Bird completely unravels his signature, eclectic songwriting style for a simple and short folk record. Clocking in at just under forty minutes, it barely holds its own as a full album. The album seems full of very forgettable songs at a first glance, unlike his earlier works; these songs are less engaging and very stripped-down.
The target of reaching towards simplicity and folk song writer formula is exacted to a tee. If I had not been familiar with any of Bird’s previous works I would have taken Hands of Glory for what it is: A spot on example of well written, formulaic folk songs. However after a few focused listens, there are moments where Bird’s violin playing and clever musical abilities take the forefront of his songs such as the final track, ‘Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses’. Bird restates the theme of the opening track and expands on it with subtle violin lines layered over each other. It is also the only time that Bird showcases his remarkable whistling abilities. The opening track, ‘Three White Horses’ resembles Bird’s characteristic songwriting style the best. Underneath the folk harmonies and swung rhythms there are subtle violin layerings and tiny melodic ideas that haunt the foreground of the song creating an eerie setting for this song about death. This song is the only song that attempts to break any molds, as the last section of the song changes to a straight driving rhythm, this seems to take Bird back to some of his more tasteful and creative writing styles.
Bird takes an eerie twist on folk songwriting styles with this record. The subject matter of most of the songs are dark and focused around death. The background harmonies and seemingly innocent melodies mask this subject matter to anyone not giving their full attention to the record. The use of simple effects create heavily reverberated sound affects that touch in and out of each song, such as in ‘Spirograph’, a song about a girl’s experience facing death in her family. The Chicago native, most known around town for being an esteemed teacher at the Old Town School of Folk Music displays his ability to use subtlety and space to carefully craft songs. The ideas and content of this album will fly over your head if you do not listen carefully. 8/10