THE EVOLUTION OF ANDREW BIRDThough he only last played in Tucson in September, Andrew Bird is back in town this week, hot on the heels of his new album, Armchair Apocrypha, his first for his new label, Fat Possum. Fat Possum, which specializes in gritty blues, both by old masters and younger practitioners, is an odd choice for Bird, whose last couple of albums came courtesy of Ani DiFranco's label, Righteous Babe.
Come to think of it, I don't know where Bird would properly belong, label-wise. He doesn't really fit in with any musical trends or a particular label's "sound." There is no established home for a guy whose resume would list violin playing and whistling as two of his primary skills.
But whistle and play the violin, he does; he writes some pretty terrific songs and sings them in a mysteriously alluring manner, too. Oh, and he also plays the guitar and is a master of looping technology--or rather, the skills to utilize such technology in order to wring maximum effect out of it.
Truth be told, I've only had my copy of Armchair Apocrypha for a couple of days, so I'm certainly not as acquainted with it as I am his last two albums, 2003's Weather Systems and 2005's The Mysterious Production of Eggs--both of which made my Top 10 list of the respective years of their releases. But initial listens tell me it's got a good chance of making my list this year.
Armchair Apocrypha marks the first time in a while that Bird has collaborated with another musician as closely as he does here--in this case, the multi-instrumentalist Martin Dosh, who releases solo albums under his surname. The result is a slightly more dense production (though the word "dense" may be a bit misleading). It's just that there's a bit more going on in Armchair Apocrypha--more piano and more guitar, for example--than usual, and the result will surely earn him a few more fans. Which is to say, it's a bit more accessible, a bit less of a showcase for Bird's singular talents, even as it flaunts new ones.
For one thing, there's less whistling here, and while it's not necessarily missed, its absence is totemic of the direction Bird has taken. His crooning voice is front and center and will surely draw comparisons to the late Jeff Buckley. The strings sound bigger; the beats are louder; all in all, Armchair Apocrypha sounds more in step with other albums being released in 2007.
"Simple X" is a perfect distillation of the impact Dosh has here, its shuffling hip-hop-style drumbeat providing emphasis to the seemingly incongruous strings and Bird's ethereal voice. "Imitosis" will be familiar to anyone who's seen Bird live in the last couple of years, and prominently features another of Bird's trademarks--the sound of plucked violin strings. And, in a world in which Modest Mouse can have a No. 1 album, the indie-rock guitar strums of opener "Fiery Crash" wouldn't sound entirely out of place on the radio.
The album is a step forward in Bird's canon, even though it's instantly identifiable as an Andrew Bird album, and another excellent one at that. At this point, he seems incapable of releasing a lame album, and as great as his recorded material is, his live performances are how he's best experienced--the best way to truly "get" him.
Your chance comes on Friday, April 27, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Apostle of Hustle opens at 8 p.m. Tickets for the all-ages show are $18 in advance, $20 on the day of show. For more information, head to the Rialto Web site or call 740-1000.
IN THE DETAILSThe old saw that the devil's in the details can be applied to the music of Damien Rice.
The Irish folkie jumped ship from his indie-rock outfit Juniper in the late '90s, went traveling around Europe, then recorded a demo that found its way into the right hands. In 2003, he released his solo debut, O (Vector), which earned him throngs of devoted fans, the adoration of a slobbering network of music critics and the Shortlist Prize for Artistic Achievement. Last year, he followed up the debut with 9 (Warner Bros.), which was slightly less lauded than its predecessor, though it still received high marks.
Rice's gift is for quiet, understated songs that are as sparsely arranged as they are gorgeous. He certainly hasn't reinvented the wheel on his two albums, but he takes what, in other hands, is a somewhat tired form and makes it sound fresh. Maybe it's because he's just a better songwriter than most who trade in this stuff; maybe it's the inclusion of singer Lisa Hannigan, whose forlorn voice often duets with Rice on his songs; maybe it's those aforementioned details, which Rice never seems to get wrong. Whatever it is, it propels Rice past his peers, making folk of the singer-songwriter tradition sound fresh again.
Damien Rice performs at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2, at the Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Advance tickets are available for $32 and $42 at all Ticketmaster outlets, at Ticketmaster's Web site or by calling 321-1000.
BARN STORMINGJimmy LaValle's (Tristeza, The Black Heart Procession and Gogogo Airheart) mostly instrumental project, The Album Leaf, arrives iin town this week for a show at Club Congress.
Reviewing the band's latest album, Into the Blue Again (Sub Pop, 2006), in these pages, Annie Holub wrote: "... The Album Leaf makes the kind of music that sounds simultaneously modern and primordial--intensely familiar, yet startlingly new, earthy and ethereal. It's perfect, then, that LaValle recorded Into the Blue Again, The Album Leaf's fourth full-length, in a modernized barn, and then went to Iceland for mixing--if you need a geographic image for what this sounds like, a modernized barn and Iceland just about covers it."
The all-ages show begins at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2, with an opening set from The Lymbyc System. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 on the day of show. For further details, call 622-8848.
ON THE BANDWAGONLike Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, and Mogwai, Japan's Mono is an all-instrumental band whose music ebbs and swells. A typical song begins so quietly, it's almost not there, then almost imperceptibly builds, growing louder and denser, until it's inescapably overpowering. Sure, you can experience Mono by listening to their albums, but this stuff is far more intoxicating in a live setting. Lucky for you, then, that Mono will perform on Monday, April 30, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. The show begins at 8:45 p.m. with opening sets from World's End Girlfriend and The Drift. Advance tickets are available for $8 at the Virtuous Web site; they'll be $10 on the day of the show. Call 798-1298 for more info.
If you missed Willie Nelson's recent sold-out show at Desert Diamond Casino, 1100 W. Pima Mine Road, and were hoping to catch him on his return visit, on Tuesday, May 2, be warned that unless you already have your tickets, you're going to miss him again. Tuesday's show is sold out, too.
We're almost out of room, but here's a quick rundown of some other noteworthy shows coming to town this week: "nerdcore" rapper MC Frontalot at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., on Sunday, April 29 (884-0874); pop-rock singer-songwriter Saul Kaye at Nimbus Brewing Company, 3850 E. 44th St., on Friday, April 27 (745-9175); Jackie Greene at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Sunday, April 29 (622-8848); The Oh Sees at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., on Sunday, April 29 (622-3535).