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Andrew Bird’s career arc is epitome of what any musician dreams of accomplishing. Though he began as a virtually unknown classically trained violinist / folk musician, he has built not only a remarkable worldwide fanbase, but created a unique image and an unbelievably characteristic sound through persistence and perseverance. On the past few LP’s, we’ve heard walls of sonic beauty created by violin lines over violin loops over violin loops over guitar over bass and drums, complimented by other bell instruments and virtuoso whistling. Not to mention the eloquence and subtlety of Bird’s voice, ranging from singing virtuoso passages full of wordplay to mumbling incoherent phrases to repeatedly humming just a few notes.

With Hands of Glory, Bird has returned to his midwestern roots. Where recently his bluesy, folksy violin background has been relatively contained, serving more as his influence (starting with 2003’s Weather Systems), Hands of Glory marks their full re-emergence. In fact, this album bears the most resemblance to The Swimming Hour and all of his older, pre-2003 Bowl of Fire releases. It is stripped down, down home-y, and artfully simple, sidestepping the scientific lingo on recent releases (calcium mines and measuring brains) and almost constant wordplay (“Anonimal”, for example). With this collection of country covers and album reworks, the listener is presented with lines such as “take your apples from the earth” and “if I needed you, would you come to me?”. Complicated riffs in 7/8 have been substituted with genuine sentiment over simple grooves – a testament to Bird’s musicality, versatility, as well as his ability to make heartfelt, stripped down music in 2012. The album feels like it was recorded in your living room; there are no barriers between artist and listener. That’s probably because it was recorded in a barn, around a single microphone.

In an today’s age of the explicit, Andrew Bird has managed to release an introspective, nuanced, minimalist, and beautiful album. And there’s no saying where he’ll go next. And that is a good thing.

You can go and stream the entire album for free here.

This is a fall album if I’ve ever heard one… seems like the perfect soundtrack for walking through fields of fallen leaves and apple picking all while drinking a hot cup of cider. Or trying to find a job. That too.

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I’ve had two girlfriends… I guess that’s why I have two records.

It’s funny – and I’m sure anyone who knew me in high school, especially towards the beginning of 10th grade, would agree: I went and saw a Joshua Radin concert. I have no doubt that had someone told my 15 year old self that at age 19 I would see Joshua Radin live, I would have slapped myself. But things have changed and acoustic music is still in my listening rotation… even sometimes Radin depending on my mood. Also, I have a girlfriend who happens to love him, but that’s beside the point. Also, I remember Lucas listening to Joshua Radin in 10th or 11th grade and me thinking it was Joshua Redman (a prominent jazz saxophone player)!

It turns out that Gary Jules happened to be opening for the show, and I have been a fan of some of his music (well, at least Mad World, which isn’t really his) ever since I first saw Donnie Darko. He stood on stage and brought this wise, deep, emotional vibe to the hall. People seemed to enjoy his music (which was oddly mostly from his record released back in… 2003?) but then finally he got to the point and played a superb rendition of Mad World, and told a funny story about how some guy on American Idol lost by singing it with a bravissimo ending. The crowd actually went nuts. The lighting on stage was actually very cool – some fog with random lights in shapes, kind of giving Jules this Jesus-ish vibe. It was a great set – he ended with a song that has been used on Grey’s Anatomy, so natually, all of the girls in the audience (which was probably 90% of the audience anyway) nearly fainted.

So next, Joshua Radin comes on. But it’s not just him, like in the picture at the top, no. It’s a weird group of him and 4 other older, geeky looking musicians (I find out afterwards that they’re music school graduates… great). It’s his band that he hired for this huge tour he’s on, and there’s a drummer, bassist, backup guitar slash UKELELE player, and keyboardist. Actually, the bassist was cool but looked probably like 35 or something.

Then, Radin runs out to 500 screaming girls and starts to play Brand New Day, one of his huge hits. The band is tasteful and I’m thinking to myself, ‘cool’. He proceeds to be really extroverted and give a lot of information about his songs, which is nice. But in all fairness, the quote at the beginning of this article sums everything up. He wrote two albums because he had a lot of feelings, both good and bad, about his two ex-gfs (lol), and now is in the process of writing a third. But what the fuck does he write his new album about now that he’s single?

The answer: absolutely nothing. Half of his new album is shitty generic rock songs. You say what? I say, yes, generic rock. And when I say rock, I mean like Joshua-Radin-made-a-garage-band-with-kind-of-better-than-garage-band-musicians. He proceeded to say “I hope you don’t mind that I have this awesome band… I have to give them a spin!” From that song on for me, I lost him. Yes, he eventually played wonderful renditions of all of his great songs, but I kept thinking that here is this guy who was a better than average singer/songwriter who hired some band and wrote some songs that have stupid cliché guitar solos and stupid chiché piano licks and end with HUGE stupid chiché drum fills on some 7 piece DW kit with like 5 cymbals. He out-clichéd almost any band I’ve every heard. Why did he change so drastically? Maybe it was a childhood dream to be in a rock band, or maybe because he HAD to, because he has a record deal. He even explained that one day he tried writing a song and he felt like he had nowhere to go musically, so he wrote a song about the fact that he has nowhere to go, called “nowhere to go”. It sucked.

The crowd ate his new material up faster than this guy ate that burger. It was weird… they didn’t really care that he had changed ENTIRELY; it seemed to come down to weird sex appeal, and I lost it. He had two albums of material to write, and now he has no real inspiration. But why fold now? He’s the soundtrack to every wedding, every TV show and many movies. But the moment he told the crowd to not be shy and to dance, I was deeply torn. You don’t go to a jazz show and have someone say “surprise we put in a heavy metal cover”, or a bluegrass cover. Maybe I am overreacting, but half the new album is supposedly this half generic power-chord half Mute Math half weird rock and the other half is him trying to be his old self acoustically but now having nothing to write about. I can’t wait until his new album comes out in January and is reviewed to see whether critics think the same thing.

Regardless, check out his myspace. There’s good pieces of songwriting, even if they’re a bit shallow and silly at points.

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