Classically trained violinist-turned-folk-artist Andrew Bird put his own review right in the title. In My Finest Work Yet, Bird charms listeners with 10 beautifully crafted and produced songs that sometimes read more like a history textbook than song lyrics. Bird lays down the violin and instead relies heavily on classical or jazz-sounding piano and guitar, typically overlaid with a heavy percussion (using a variety of instruments) that seems to sweep the listener forward as if headed somewhere. And through Bird’s lyrical use of a geography of place and time, he indeed aims to take the listener somewhere.
Bird employs historical knowledge (and his vast vocabulary) to weave his songs together, so much so I was often referencing Google. However, this does not create an inaccessibility to his music; instead, these old stories and rich language blend to say something about modern life. “Sisyphus,” the full-sounding opening song on the album, is named after a Greek god eternally cursed to roll a rock up a mountainside, only to have it roll down upon reaching the top. Here Bird explores the range of emotion of the main character. Is he angry or sad, or perhaps is he accepting, even owning his fate? “Let it roll,” the song’s chorus exclaims. A theme of the song, and to a degree the whole album, is the power of perspective—how the passing of time can help us see things a little more clearly.
Another song building on this theme of perspective is the one that initially drew me to the album: “Manifest.” In it, Bird takes a much larger and more serious perspective on the relationship between humankind and creation, mourning what seems as a potential tragedy. Throughout the album, Bird does not avoid the more sobering issues of our day, though perhaps this listening experience is more like a well-written novel compared to the daily news.
“My Finest Work Yet” is easy to digest, building on well-honed folk music that will remind listeners of past Andrew Bird albums and adding elements of jazz, even gospel, to an already eclectic listen.
So perhaps “My Finest Work Yet” is the perfect title. Like the album, it has a sense of time and scope, of reflection, of honesty, and of hope. Bird is an artist who continues to grow and build upon what he already knows. He seems to desire the same for his audience. (Loma Vista Recordings)