Andrew Bird’s Latest One of His Best in Years

22 Apr

Andrew Bird can be something of an acquired taste.

A remarkably gifted singer-songwriter and phenomenal musician, Bird comes from a classical background. He started playing his preferred instrument — the violin — at the age of four. He continued to be immersed in musical training through his graduation from a Chicago-area high school and Northwestern University, where he earned a degree in violin performance.

Beginning his professional career as more of a traditional folk artist who was part of a band, after a period of time Bird moved into a barn on a farm in rural Illinois. Being miles from anywhere made it difficult to collaborate with other artists.

Left to his own devices, he began to make all the music himself. He still played his trademark violin — which he would bow, pluck or strum. But he also became quite proficient at other instruments, including guitar and glockenspiel. He is a whistling virtuoso as well, and integrates it into many of his songs. And Bird has become an expert at looping — so amazing that he can perform “Hole in the Ocean Floor” from Break It Yourself — with its many complex layers — solo I’ve seen him do it on stage at the Mountain Winery above Saratoga. Wow!

His dedication to his craft and his drive for perfection has perhaps made him seem overly serious at times. Which brings us to his current album, Are You Serious.

In this, Bird’s first full-length in almost four years, he tackles that perception head-on. Are You Serious is fresh, highly creative and full of pleasant surprises. Some of the inspiration may have to do with the fact that since his last album, Bird has met the love of his life, married and now has a son. This change in perspective has resulted in one of Bird’s best, well-grounded works in many years.

The album opens with “Capsized.” If you don’t know Bill Withers, this reference may be lost on you — but one could swear this infectious, R&B-influenced groove is the perfect complement to Withers’ “Use Me” from the early 1970s.

“Roma Fade” follows and one immediately hears all of Bird’s trademarks: a plucked violin, whistling and a classical song structure. Then, 25 seconds in, the tune takes off and becomes a galloping, string-laden pop-rock romp with a great hook and lyrics recalling when Bird met his wife. This is one of the best songs on the album.

The fourth track is “Puma.” This is a fun, quirky song reportedly about a time in Bird’s life that wasn’t so much fun. Apparently, his wife was dealing with a possibly serious health issue (it turned out to be okay). When they were going in to get the results of a test, Bird’s wife said something like, “I just hope the doctors don’t discover I’m a girl, and not a puma.” There’s inspiration for you!

The title track, “Are You Serious” is another tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating composition. Here, Bird pokes fun at his “too serious” persona. Great plucked and bowed violins are heard throughout.

“The New Saint Jude” is a bouncy and fun tune with interesting tempo shifts, a great rhythm track and an apparent nod to some of the tunes Paul Simon has created. Bird keeps repeating, “Ever since I gave up hope, I’ve been feeling so much better.” Not a bad way to cope with life’s inevitable challenges.

There’s really not a bad song on the album. If you love Andrew Bird, you’ll love Are You Serious. And if you’re new to his music, this might be a great time to become part of the flock of fans.



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