Andrew Bird - Hands of Glory | review | By Volume

What is this life, why do we strive? Fast on a wheel, too fast to feel. One day, my love, this life will slow. Sam Brookes - One Day

Andrew Bird

Hands of Glory

I don’t really want to be friends with people who don’t like Andrew Bird anyway.

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Author: on November 10, 2012
Mom & Pop
October 30, 2012

As a companion piece to his earlier 2012 release, the excellent Break It Yourself, Andrew Bird’s Hands of Glory inevitably feels like a “one for the fans” affair. Nothing here will make headway with too many new listeners, perhaps outside of the odd country or folk fan interested in some of the covers here, but then again that’s usually the response of most people to a new Andrew Bird album. For those who claim his music to be bland, Andrew Bird seems consistently less interested in pleasing new crowds. And that’s a great thing, really. He went down that path before, coming out of his Bowl of Fire days of hot jazz, eastern folk melodies, and noirish romps, and into the pop spotlight with The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Since then he has slowly come back down to his roots, and Hands of Glory is even more stripped down and rootsy than Break It Yourself was, which is pretty great if you ask me. So when I say it’s “one for the fans,” what I really mean to say is Andrew Bird keeps doing that thing he does so well.

Of course not everything on this companion piece is of the highest order. Some of the middle tracks feel like they belong on a companion album over the main stage. “Railroad Bill” and “Something Biblical,” in particular, both feel a bit ho-hum compared to the rest of the tracks on display; by no means is either song bad, but the country twang of the former is more of a miss than a hit, and the latter feels a bit too precious to the point of being plodding. At other times Hands of Glory might suffer from its own designation as an addition, a tack-on. “Orpheo,” for example, is heart achingly beautiful, with dry violin tones replacing the effervescent fiddling of Break It Yourself’s original, but with that switch the song loses some of its energy and beauty.

For each misstep (if we even want to call them that), though, there is something to treasure. The album is bookended by its two best tracks. “Three White Horses” is a haunting cover that uses Bird’s great awareness of space and timbre to make it something special and worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as some of his best pieces. The ten minute, near-instrumental version of that track, closing out Hands of Glory, manages to take all of those precious, warm, and beautiful moments that have littered Andrew Bird’s album for God knows how long, and places them into one long phantasmagoria. As the plucked fiddling section gives way to the heavily reverbed loops that wash over the second half of the song, it is quite simply one of the best moments of 2012. For this I cannot but recommend this—if it’s your thing. Is this going to win over those detractors? Does it offer them something they haven’t heard from Andrew Bird before? Is Hands of Glory the absolute must have of the year? No, but I don’t really want to be friends with people who don’t like Andrew Bird anyway.

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