Earlier in the year, Andrew Bird’s ‘Break it Yourself’ was released, featuring the usual staccato strings, interesting variations on theme and plaintive whistling which are his trademark.
Billed as the companion album to his previous release, ‘Hands of Glory’ is the ying to ‘Break it Yourself’s’ yang. Both are flavoured with the tang of Americana, peppered with Bird’s distinct vocals and strings and could be considered two faces of the same coin. However, where the former album features light and airy arrangements – the jangling guitars and rising, inconsequential vocals of ‘Danse Carribe’, the enthusiastic chanting of the album title during Eyeoneye – ‘Hands of Glory ‘hogties us to the earth and discloses the more grounded traits of the style.
A malevolent, insistent bass begins the album on ‘Three White Horses’, with Andrew’s mournful vocal lines backed by ghostly harmonies and ghostlier guitar. The bass slinks on behind, whilst drums pound home the message, ‘you’ll need somebody when you come to die’. This is no light- hearted rumination on an ‘era without bees’. The heavy bass-lead instrumentation then continues with ‘When the Helicopters Come’, another brooding piece which doesn’t progress much from the outset. From here we head deep into Americana and a couple of forgettable acoustic pieces.
Railroad bill offers fingerpicking which wouldn’t be out of place in ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou?’, a sing-along chorus reminiscent of the soggy bottom boys and an excellent fiddle solo to boot. Both this and the plod-along, jugband basslines of ‘If I Needed You’ give the album a sense of motion – it’s possible to imaging yourself travelling the corn belt of America whilst listening to Hands of Glory. The album ends with almost a hushed gospel (albeit with a swooping phase breakdown two thirds of the way through), which feels a fitting closing to the EP.
However, between these tracks are two pace-sapping songs in the form of ’Something Biblical’ and ‘Orpheo’, which whilst pleasant, suffer in comparison to the more rhythm driven songs, Bird’s tender voice not being quite enough to carry them through with his plucked strings pushed to the back of the mix.
The fact that Hands of Glory doesn’t grab the listener in quite the way in which Break it Yourself did is evident in standout track ‘Spirograph’. Its winding vocal lines and lifting violins feel out of place between the sombre understated songs, as though it belongs on its predecessor. So, although Hands of Glory is a worthwhile companion to Break it Yourself, it’s always going to be in its shadow.