Multitalented artist releases new, darker album

Ricky Stein

Artist name: Andrew Bird
Album title: Hands of Glory

Record label: Mom+Pop Music
Songs to download: “Three White Horses,” “If I needed You”

The last four years have been extremely productive for Chicago-based singer/songwriter/violinist/whistling extraordinaire Andrew Bird. After releasing an album in both 2009 and 2010, Bird signed with the indie label Mom+Pop Music, composed the score to the film “Norman,” released his sixth studio album, Break It Yourself, and screened the concert documentary “Andrew Bird: Fever Year” at dozens of film festivals around the world.

With the release of Hands of Glory, Bird continues his torrid pace. The 8-track album, which was recorded in his barn-turned-studio just outside of Chicago, serves as a companion piece to Break It Yourself, containing alternate takes of album cuts alongside several cover songs and one new original.

As a whole, the album is darker and folksier than previous Bird releases. Recorded live with all-acoustic instrumentation around a single microphone, the band displays both precision and vibrancy, showcasing pitch-perfect harmonies, virtuosic violin playing and notably little of Bird’s trademark whistling.

“Three White Horses” opens the set, cantering in at an ominous pace. “Don’t dismiss it like it’s easy / Tell me what’s so easy about coming to say goodbye,” Bird exhorts in his crystalline tenor.

The reverb-soaked cadence of “When That Helicopter Comes” follows, introducing a minor-key apocalyptic urban ballad that picks up the tempo as well as the intensity. An insidious guitar line plays patiently beneath what could be either Bird’s screeching violin or the howling ghosts of rural east Illinois.

The mood lifts incrementally with “Spirograph” and “Railroad Bill,” the latter a foot-tapping train-hop shuffle complete with a steam-whistle violin fill. “Wheeeeeeew!” cries one of the musicians in exuberance at the end of the take, followed by rounds of infectious laughter.

The most obvious highlight of the uniformly strong album occurs two tracks later with an imaginative rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” Featuring deep, rich harmonies cast over a slow-rocking country tempo, the song pays poignant homage to the legendary Texas troubadour without retreading the same path as the dozens of others who have covered the song.

A heartfelt acoustic version of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and the 9-minute, one-violin loop-pedal reprise “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses” close out this concise, uplifting record. For fans of Andrew Bird, it will be a welcome addition to their libraries; for the uninitiated, it just might have enough stripped-down charm to win some new converts.

With the release of Hands of Glory, Bird continues his torrid pace. The 8-track album, which was recorded in his barn-turned-studio just outside of Chicago, serves as a companion piece to Break It Yourself, containing alternate takes of album cuts alongside several cover songs and one new original.

As a whole, the album is darker and folksier than previous Bird releases. Recorded live with all-acoustic instrumentation around a single microphone, the band displays both precision and vibrancy, showcasing pitch-perfect harmonies, virtuosic violin playing and notably little of Bird’s trademark whistling.

“Three White Horses” opens the set, cantering in at an ominous pace. “Don’t dismiss it like it’s easy / Tell me what’s so easy about coming to say goodbye,” Bird exhorts in his crystalline tenor.

The reverb-soaked cadence of “When That Helicopter Comes” follows, introducing a minor-key apocalyptic urban ballad that picks up the tempo as well as the intensity. An insidious guitar line plays patiently beneath what could be either Bird’s screeching violin or the howling ghosts of rural east Illinois.

The mood lifts incrementally with “Spirograph” and “Railroad Bill,” the latter a foot-tapping train-hop shuffle complete with a steam-whistle violin fill. “Wheeeeeeew!” cries one of the musicians in exuberance at the end of the take, followed by rounds of infectious laughter.

The most obvious highlight of the uniformly strong album occurs two tracks later with an imaginative rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” Featuring deep, rich harmonies cast over a slow-rocking country tempo, the song pays poignant homage to the legendary Texas troubadour without retreading the same path as the dozens of others who have covered the song.

A heartfelt acoustic version of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and the 9-minute, one-violin loop-pedal reprise “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses” close out this concise, uplifting record. For fans of Andrew Bird, it will be a welcome addition to their libraries; for the uninitiated, it just might have enough stripped-down charm to win some new converts.

Artist name: Neil Young
Album title: Psychedelic Pill

Record label: Reprise Records
Songs to download: “Ramada Inn,” “Walk Like a Giant”

Fresh off their headlining performance at ACL Fest, Neil and the gang unleash their second album of the year, following the dismally received Americana.. Never one to make concessions, Young and company open with the 27-minute garage jam “Driftin’ Back.” The “Ragged Glory” energy is somehow sustained through the album’s double-disc, 87-minute run time.

Artist name: Mike and the Moonpies
Album title: The Hard Way

Record label: Self-released
Songs to download: “Sunday,” “Things Can Only Get Better” 

The local honky-tonk favorites tear through a set of hard-core country that has made their successive residencies at the Hole in the Wall and the White Horse one of Austin’s most popular regular gigs. Standout tracks include lead single “Sunday” and the Harry Nilsson-tinged closer “Things Can Only Get Better”.

Artist name: Thrice
Album title: Anthology

Record label: Staple Records
Songs to download: “Promises,” “Anthology”

This compilation by the prolific southern California post-hardcore quartet collects 24 songs recorded live during the band’s recent farewell tour in May and June. The album serves as a comprehensive overview of the band’s catalog, containing songs from its 2000 debut Identity Crisis all the way to its most recent studio release Major/Minor.