It's common knowledge that Andrew Bird's genius transcends music. Witnessing a recent performance of his new indie-Americana group Hands of Glory, each time Bird touched his violin, or whistled, I felt unable to stop recalling the times I saw transcendent athletes (Mario Lemieux, Barry Bonds, etc.) in action as a kid. But, as evidenced on Bird's new album Things Are Really Great Here, Sort of... , the forty-year-old violin virtuoso is no Steve Vai. The prolific Bird's love of irreverent-yet-profound songwriting dates back to his late-Nineties days collaborating with Squirrel Nut Zippers and leading Bowl of Fire. Things Are Really Great Here, which continues with the dusty Americana style Bird undertook with 2012's Hands of Glory, focuses solely on covers of Handsome Family tunes. The Albuquerque-via-Chicago duo's darkly enlightened odes to everything from cathedrals that look like spaceships to sad milkmen to poodles who think they're cowboys fit Bird well. Though the Handsome Family is more steeped in folk tradition (as though June Carter teamed with Stephen Malkmus) than Bird, several sparsely recorded tracks here, like "Tin Foiled" and "Drunk By Noon," seem more like an evolution of Bird's sound than covers. Bird's been known to write about snack machines that dream and clouds mistaken for mountains — and his strong, sweet voice would fit in any era of American music — so these captivating tall tales ("The Giant of Illinois") and modern American curiosities ("Frogs Singing") succeed in simply bringing a touch of eccentric country, and almost Gothic wildness to an artist often known for getting by on instrumental prowess and playful lyricism alone.
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