Andrew Bird’s folky, jazzy brand of indie-rock is highly sophisticated – few artists have as much fun toying with song construction, and Bird’s lyrics have always been impossibly literate, reading like tongue-tied mazes of metaphor and sarcasm. But even at his most complex, this whistling violin virtuoso’s tunes have always felt a bit old-fashioned, out-of-step with those of his peers.
On Hands of Glory, a companion EP to this year’s Break it Yourself, Bird embraces this role and steps into a sonic time machine. Inspired by the intimate “old-timey” acoustic performances of his recent shows, he recorded these reverent and quietly pretty eight tracks (a mix of gospel/bluegrass covers and re-interpreted originals) in a barn, with his band huddled around a solitary microphone. The results can be awfully sleepy: This new version of Townes Zan Zandt’s “If I Needed You” simmers in its barnyard reverb but never takes flight. Still, it’s a delight to hear Bird embrace his capital-R roots. He’s never sounded as loose as he does on the bouncy churn of “Railroad Bill,” where his instrument shifts from violin to fiddle in real-time. Instrumental coda “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses” ends the album with a blissful drone, violins and glockenspiels twinkling into the big-country twilight. Hands of Glory isn’t Bird’s most exciting album, but it’s certainly his easiest to love.