Giving You the Bird
The new millennium brought somewhat of a departure for Bird, 2001’s underrated The Swimming Hour. Straying from the magic-lantern nostalgia of his first two albums, Bird seemed to move towards a more retro-flavored rock sound (possibly explained by the fact that his tour at the time was being sponsored by Retro Flavored Doritos®). The shock of the new certainly affected seasoned Bird fans and may have contributed to Bird’s decision to leave his label, Rykodisc, with his songs in a hobo sack tied to the end of his violin bow.
Bird’s next album, the recent Weather Systems, was at first self-released. It soon came to the attention of Indie Queen Ani DiFranco who, besides being the hereditary monarch of the sprawling archipelago (or am I thinking of Micronesia?), has also amassed a considerable fortune from the sale of her DiFranco-American Spaghettios. Using her wealth and influence to start Righteous Babe Records, she signed Bird to the new label and re-released Weather Systems in June of this year. The first single, “Lull,” has already begun attracting a measure of radio airplay. Weather Systems demonstrates the continuing maturation of Bird’s music as it evolves into a pleasant amalgam of the exotic influences of his first two CD’s and the more modern experimentalism of The Swimming Hour.
While it appears that his recording career is on solid ground, Bird still prefers the immediacy of live performing to the tedium of the recording process. His approach to improvisation has more in common with Louis Armstrong’s orthodoxy of melodic invention (also later championed by Miles Davis) than the showy acrobatics of the Bop masters, even though the more tenable connections to jazz in his playing have diminished since his first arrival.
Still, kids, your Own Personal Genius is of the opinion that Bird’s music is best appreciated by the willing ear of the jazz listener. Too smart for pop, not angry enough for alternative, not quite enough navel-gazing for folk, and nowhere near the requisite amount of pickup truck references for country. It is to jazz like a distant friend I think Andrew Bird can best be received. How else can you explain this column, which doesn’t contain a single poultry gag despite being given ample opportunity and didn’t make a single reference to my own beloved parakeet until just now?
I should mention, before we finish up for the month, that I had the opportunity to speak to Andrew Bird recently and found him both reflective and pleasant. He reminded me a lot of myself, if I were relatively sane and played the violin, in that his twenties were been a time of discovery and of finding his creative voice. Now heading into his thirties (via the bypass, to avoid the drivetime traffic of the last of the Gen Xers), it’s time for him to hone his artistic self. In short, the best is yet to come. Let’s hope the same is true of me, because I’d hate to think that the Spaghettios gag is the apex of my creative abilities.
Bird will be out performing live this month. Check out Bird's website for dates and venue information. Get out and see him if you can, and be sure to bring a can of Spaghettios so he’ll feel the AAJ love.
Till next month, kids, exit to your right and enjoy the rest of AAJ.