Since the late ‘90s Andrew Bird has been churning out genre-bending music on a regular basis. Whether you find yourself enamored with Bird’s swing-inspired beginnings, his chamber-leaning indie rock or his most recent foray into pseudo-traditionalism with Hands of Glory, Bird always infuses a powerful sense of personality into his tunes. Perhaps that’s why Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of feels like much more than an album filled with covers. Although all of the songs were originally penned by The Handsome Family, the prolific alt-country duo responsible for True Detective’s theme song, Bird has breathed a new life into these songs thanks to the help of his backing band The Hands of Glory, featuring Tift Merritt on guitar.
Throughout the years Andrew Bird has been well-acquainted with the work of The Handsome Family; he played violin on their album In The Air back in 2000 and has since covered a handful of their songs like “Tin Foil,” “Too Much Wine” and “Don’t Be Scared” on various live and studio recordings. Perhaps that’s why these new adaptations feel so effortless. The words seem to slowly tumble from Bird’s mouth and glide along with the smooth instrumentation, rising and falling along with the dynamic flow of these songs.
The Handsome Family’s songs contain powerful and vivid narratives that lend themselves wonderfully to Bird’s naturally emotive vocal stylings. Tracks like “My Sister’s Tiny Hands” and “The Giant of Illinois” evoke strong imagery thanks to the poignant lyricism, but Bird’s soul-shaking, lilting croon drives these stories deep into the listener’s heart. As Tift Merritt’s harmonies gradually bleed into the mix, the two vocal timbres mesh beautifully into one serendipitous sound.
While The Handsome Family’s songwriting abilities are certainly a key aspect to the album’s overall quality, Bird and all of his eccentricities have twisted these songs into something fresh and original. His trademark blend of pizzicato plucks and soaring strings transform tracks that were once barn-burning, gothic rockers like “Far From Any Road (By My Hand)” into soothing swirls of serenity. It’s easy to lose yourself inside of the tumbling rhythms and undulating melodies, as Bird toys with your attention by drawing focus to the blank spaces as much as the crescendos. These songs are tightly wound and hell-bent on unraveling into fits of enchanting whistling and gorgeous violin solos.
All in all, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of seems to stand at the intersection of Bird’s latest releases. There’s a heavy focus on folk and traditionalism; sometimes Bird is churning out rustic fiddle lines as Merritt gently plucks an acoustic, but other times he’s leaning towards the expansive arrangements that could be found on Pulaski At Night or Break It Yourself. Ultimately, Bird continues to prove himself to be a versatile musician who’s as capable at fresh adaptations of country-leaning tunes as he is forward-thinking arrangements of his own.