When Andrew Bird released Weather Systems on Ani DiFranco¹s Righteous Babe label in 2003, it was a radical departure from what fans had come to expect from the virtuoso violinist, whose reputation was shaped by his deconstructions of early-20th-century jazz and European folk and his brilliantly idiosyncratic songcraft. In the ¹90s, Bird lent his skills to swing revivalists the Squirrel Nutt Zippers and was somewhat (and wrongly) pigeonholed as a purveyor of recycled goods, which didn¹t sit well with an artist so determined to be original. Weather Systems was Bird at his most radio-friendly. Nothing sounded the least bit retro, but as lovely and lyrically interesting as it was, Weather Systems lacked the uniqueness and fun that ran through even the bleakest of Bird¹s earlier recordings.
The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Bird¹s latest offering, splits the difference between the sincerity and pop sensibilities of Weather Systems and the darkly comic constructions of his last retro-sounding recording, Oh the Grandeur. From high-lonesome whistling tracks to Jeff Buckley-esque vocals, it is, without a doubt, the persnickety string-player¹s finest offering to date.
Mysterious Production of Eggs finds Bird trapped somewhere between madness and bad medicine. ³Get out your measuring cups, and we¹ll play a new game,² he sings on ³Measuring Cups,² an unabashedly political song referencing a presidential desire to give mental exams to all school-age children. ³Come to the front of the class, and we¹ll measure your brain/We¹ll give you a complex, and we¹ll give it a name.² This is Bird at his folkiest, and his atypical song structures and lush violin, guitar, and glockenspiel arrangements are reminiscent of the Elephant 6 collective at the top of its game. Live, Bird can mesmerize, sampling his violin and playing it back on the spot. His solos range from simple and suave to mind-bogglingly complex. Nobody has ever sawed a fiddle like Bird, and, as Mysterious Production of Eggs suggests, he¹s only getting better and stranger. Artists are so frequently called ³original² that the word has become meaningless, but this guy¹s the real deal. He¹s at the Hi-Tone Cafe on Thursday, June 2nd.
If you haven¹t heard Memphis¹ Walkie Talkie, you don¹t know what you¹re missing. Blending lush Brian Wilson-ish pop with the bossa-nova beat and dreamy female vocals of Os Mutantes, these guys sound like nothing else in Memphis. Unpretentious and perfect, Walkie Talkie is a sonic treat, and they are playing the Hi-Tone on Friday, June 3rd, with Shabbadoo.
Finally: Mistakes happen. Last week, I pitched The Angel Sluts at Murphy¹s because I got an e-mail saying the Angel Sluts amazing punk rockers in the old-school tradition were playing Murphy¹s. Well, they weren¹t. But now they are. For real. No kidding. Honest. If you don¹t believe me, go by Murphy¹s on Saturday, June 4th, and see for yourself. And if, for some reason, they aren¹t playing, don¹t blame me. You see I got this e-mail Chris Davis
Lots of interesting roots-music action on the local club scene this week. Beale Street Caravan producer and longtime local folk/blues stalwart Sid Selvidge plays a CD-release party for his new CD/DVD Live at Otherlands at where else? Otherlands Saturday, June 4th. Boston¹s Dock Boggs-covering, folk-tradition-loving Tarbox Ramblers, whose most recent album, A Fix Back East, was recorded locally by Jim Dickinson, return to town after a debut gig at the Buccaneer a couple of months ago. They¹ll be at Young Avenue Deli Wednesday, June 8th. Southern singer-songwriter Kate Campbell makes one of her semiregular stops at the Center for Southern Folklore Saturday, June 4th. And alt-country artist Chris Scruggs plays Huey¹s Midtown Sunday, June 5th.
For something a little different, hip-hop fusionists Free Sol will play their first local gig since their recent big performance at the Vibe music showcase with a show at Young Avenue Deli Saturday, June 4th.