CD Review of Noble Beast by Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird: Noble Beast
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Andrew Bird: Noble Beast

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

ndrew Bird may not have set out to redefine modern music, but his eclectic fusion of jazz, rock ragtime and European folk fare morphs into a template that defies description. Beginning with his initial contributions to the zany Squirrel Nut Zippers, continuing through the three albums he recorded with his backing band, Bowl of Fire, and up to the present and his subsequent solo career, Bird’s employed violin, viola, guitar, glockenspiel, keyboards, clarinet and a damn good whistle to structure a unique aural amalgam that’s at once accessible and still unexpected.

Bird’s last album, Armchair Apocrypha and its immediate predecessor, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, each reaped critical acclaim and solidified his reputation as an artist whose music could sometimes prove as askew as his odd song titles might imply. Noble Beast proves no exception, and while immediate accessibility isn’t necessarily the operative mode here, the attempt is intriguing at the very least. As expected, Bird takes center stage throughout, plucking and bowing violin and viola to emulate a sound as rich and textured as a small symphony. And while the musical tapestry seems slightly less ambitious than those of his earlier albums, the songs’ names – "Fitz and the Dizzyspells," "Anonanimal" and "Tenuousness" being but a few examples – often suggest otherwise. After all, you have to credit anyone who opts to call a song "Nomenclature" and then actually finds a way to rhyme it in the chorus.

Regardless of ambitions, Bird sounds surprisingly wistful this time around, with melodies that navigate the wide divide between the effusive and the obtuse. Consequently, the cheery chorus and plucky gait of "Oh No" belie any hint of foreboding as borne by its title. Likewise, the yearning and desire that radiates from "Masterswarm" finds resolve in a samba-like sway. However, given that the melodies are mostly less defined, it’s the more beguiling elements that come to the fore – the pairing of the words "laughable" and "affable" within "Effigy’s" gentle refrain, the churning rumble that percolates through the core of "Unfolding Fan," the grace and glide of "Anonimal." Subtlety reigns supreme, allowing Noble Beast to find strength in nuance as well as an articulate execution that makes nearly every song something of a beguiling serenade.

Ultimately, it’s unlikely that Bird’s latest opus will expand his following beyond the critics’ kudos. After all, he doesn’t parlay mainstream melodies, despite those skillful strokes. However, like all Bird’s efforts, Noble Beast is something to savor, a genuinely unique creature capable of earning our awe.

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