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September 1999
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Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire Oh! The Grandeur! (Rykodisc)

Review by Jessica Brandt

Oh baby! Oh Nelly! Oh! The Grandeur! The Bowl of Fire comes smokin' on through again with their sophomore effort which will blow you away as much as the first (1998's Thrills Buy it, dammit!). If you dig hot jazz, swing, crazy fiddle playin', and superb jazz musicianship, then you need this album.

Grandeur begins with sort of a "bonus track." Bird is doing the soundtrack for the upcoming Tim Robbins movie The Cradle Will Rock, and one of the songs for the film, "Candy Shop," made it onto the album. The small, wallet-sized book that acompanied the disc gave a sort of disclaimer that the song was recorded in haste as a demo track for the film, but Bird felt "the tune- with its snap, vigor, and potential saleability- seemed to sum up our ambitions quite well." Rightfully so, because it could very well be the best track on the album. Full of all the good things that make up BOF- great jump, intense yet lively solos, and heartfelt vocals by Bird make me want to listen to it again and again.

Track two is one they've been playing in concert for a while. "Tea and Thorazine" sets the mood for the rest of the album which tends to stray from the vigor of "Candy Shop" and delve deeper into Andrew Bird's dark world of the mentally disturbed. The tune is slow, with eerie fiddle sounds to set the tone of a horrific mental institution. In the liner notes, the usually private Bird gives some insight into his inspiration- his brother is Autistic and spent some time in an institution where he got his art supplies taken away by some bad doctors.

"Wishing for Contentment" starts off very slow, with Bird pondering quite frankly "You know, sometimes I find myself....wishing for contentment." Apparently he's found a way to keep busy, and the song rips into a fast-paced jazzy tune, with great guitar and fiddle solos. The next song, "Wait," uses the lyrics to a poem by Galway Kinnell by the same name. Fans of Bird finally can figure out where he got the title for his first (solo) album, Music of Hair. A wonderfully slow and painful song, great for bar closing, crooned beautifully by Bird.

"The Idiot's Genius" is a song which Bird declared at a concert to be inspired by fellow Chicago musicians The Handsome Family. "I was driving one day, listening to The Handsome Family, and I was so inspired that I had to pull over and write this song." It's another slow and eerie tune, with a breathtaking bowed bass untertone fron Josh Hirsch.

"Vidalia" is my other favorite song on the album. About Bird's somewhat insane grandfather, who ate vidalia onions like apples for "what ever ails ya', heart disease the grippe and such." This tune shows off Bird's amazing ability with the fiddle. While most of his other songs are in a solid 4/4 or 2/4 time, "Vidalia" takes the insanely fast pace of gypsy music. Bird plays all over the fiddle without missing a beat and keeps it rocking from beginning to end.

"Beware" is another slow tune. A sort of warning from the wise Bird to all of the little children to beware of what people might tell you. The song goes into a grand crescendo, with banging piano. The mixing is a little rough on this one, but it gives it that very "personal" sound. The song also contains the wise lines "It wasn't long ago, just before the time of Nero, we had no concept of zero." My my.

"Dora Goes to Town" is a swingin' little number with nonsense lyrics that will please all the swing kids of late. "Feetlips" is a fast-paced tune that begins with fiddle plucking (as opposed to bowing) and tells the story of a man who is even more tragic than Pierrot Somepeople from Thrills. After a deafening pause, Bird breaks back in with the air of an opera singer and finishes off the song.

"And so..." is a short instrumental, followed by the upbeat Latin "Coney Island Shuffle" which is just spectacular live. These two are followed by another instrumental in "Respiration" which is slow and folky, nearly painful.

"(What's Your) Angle" is a cute dance number with a lot of long words that rhyme with "angle" and such, and ends with the term "fangle bang." Nearly uncharistically Bird, but he carries it off as if he were a truly happy guy.

"The Confession" is slow and sweet. It's the nearest to a love song, or a loss-of-love song I suspect Andrew Bird will ever pen. It's slow and beautiful, in regards to the singing and the fiddle playing.

After a short instrumental reprise of "Beware" comes another bonus track, albeit an advertised bonus track. Bird and Co. are awfully fond of their drinking, so it's only fitting for them to have a "Drinking Song (In The Grande Style)" cap off Grandeur. What makes it "in the grande style" is its reeling piano and sing-along vocals. But it's also a warning to never try to out drink the roughly 5'7", 150# Bird who, from what I hear, can put it away much like Stone Cold Steve Austin.

From its marvelous music right to creative packaging and extremely amusing liner notes, Oh! The Grandeur! could proove to be one of the best albums of the year in its category. If only there were a category for it. The Bowl of Fire is one of the most talented bands I've ever seen and heard, full of energy and love for their music.

In fact, this album is so good, The Shrubbery is going to give away one copy to the person who writes us the saddest story about how he/she cannot afford to go buy one for themselves. Email your sob stories to theshrub@theshrubbery.com and we'll hook you up.

However, if you can indeed afford it (it can be a substitute for food), why not give the less-fortunate a better chance at winning and Buy it at Amazon.com!

A+ [100%]

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