Time and distance are a wonderful recipe for self-deception. I look back on the days I lived in Paris with an awful amount of nostalgia; “those were the greatest days of my life- really the best,” I tell people. In truth, the days I spent in the French metropolis were some of the most depressing days of my life, slumbering drunk and alone in the city of romance, tripping on banana peels in the metro to the amusement of many a homeless French man, all tied together by the chirping melancholy of Andrew Bird’s “Lull.”
I’ve been perpetually obsessed with the idea of becoming your location, identifying with the culture, the roads signs, the buildings and the coffee served, though I’ve written about my incessant need to peer into the future and remain where I am. Sometimes, it’s equally important to revisit the past through a country song, and travel slowly back to the present, where perception is key in realizing that things might be really wonderful.
Any valiant effort to bruise honesty with nostalgia should bring us back to Bird, the incumbent king of composing songs that rage with the spirit of life while harkening back to past memories and dead moments. In his latest release, Things Are Really Great Here… Sort Of,” Bird puts his own melodic, softly melancholic spin on songs by the folky hubsand-and-wife duo The Handsome Family. And what name would be more apt to begin peeling away at self-deception? It’s a lonely road when we deny the relationship between who we are and where we’ve gone.
Recorded just a month ago, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of… is an ode to the country band, whose songs merge the cultures of the northeast (Renee Sparks hails from Long Island) and the south (Brett Sparks is a Texas native) into a transcendent folk sound, intent on exposing the perils of emotion. In all of the whistling and bowing that Bird does, his most apt penchant is for breaking tracks down into the most skeletal display of their emotional context; it is the vocal peaks in a desperate search for hope that unites his multi-instrumentalist compositions.
Bird is no stranger to stripped-down, eclectic interpretation of country-folk songs; his 2012 addendum to “Break It Yourself” is a compilation of country covers, recreating the music of The Carter Family, Townes Van Zandt and others in a celebratory bridge of old-timey fiddling with modern orchestral arrangements. Ask someone what the difference is between a violin and a fiddle- some people will throw out the infamous Suzuki method, the proximity of strings to a fingerboard- but listen to Andrew Bird, and the dichotomy disappears. Effortlessly, he blends classical training with a proficient understanding of the language of music; he speaks fluently, twisting the dialects of the north and the south into gorgeous reproductions of songs.