Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire
The Swimming Hour
First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2001, Volume 8, #8
Written by T.J. Simon
Andrew Bird is a man unstuck in time. This unique musical artist was the violinist for the Squirrel Nut Zippers and has recorded two previous albums under the umbrella of Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire. His past efforts — arty works not intended for or easily digested by mass audiences — were a celebration of pre-1950s American and European music written for a contemporary age. For his latest release The Swimming Hour, Bird leaves Tin Pan Alley and takes a turn toward the pop world. In the process, he and his bandmates have created one of the year's most compelling recordings.
An accomplished singer, songwriter, and musical visionary, Bird has constructed a unique product in this 13-song epic, touching upon the music of modern pop, cowboy country, delta blues, and Wolfman Jack-era rock-n-roll. As such, The Swimming Hour is an eclectic mix of styles and flavors evocative of Phil Spector, David Byrne, The Flaming Lips, and Ben Folds Five. The current Bowl of Fire line-up is enhanced by the addition of angelic vocalist Nora O'Connor, who perfectly complements Bird's voice on most of the tracks, including the radio-friendly 11:11 and Two-Way Action. And when Bird is not singing a duet with O'Connor, he utilizes his own violin as his vocal partner, creating a symphonic mood, plucking it as a guitar, and making it smoke like a square-dance hoedown.
The songs on The Swimming Hour compose a whirlwind tour of the last fifty years of pop music, albeit with an eye towards the future. Way Out West easily could have been the theme song to a long-forgotten weekly western from the early days of television. Satisfied is a bluesy number, featuring Bird bending violin notes like a guitarist from the Delta. The album is at its best, however, when Bird lets his symphonic skills soar as in the dreamy modern ballad Headsoak. Rather than slowing down for the finish, he concludes the album with the double-bang of How Indiscreet and Dear Old Greenland. These tracks pay tribute to 1950s-era soulful rock-n-roll, and are punctuated by the stellar drumming of Kevin O'Donnell — one of the finest percussionists working today and the leader of jazz ensemble Kevin O'Donnell's Quality Six.
Under the artistic vision of Bird, the group definitely has rounded a corner with their recent recording. As a result, The Swimming Hour undoubtedly will be on many lists of year's best albums, and fans of progressive, intelligent pop music might want to jump on the Bowl of Fire bandwagon while the buzz is still fresh.
The Swimming Hour is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box