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The mysterious alchemy of Andrew Bird

This troubadour produces CDs that you actually need to go out and buy. By Constance Kwinn
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

I urge every man jack and woman jane of you to go out to your independent record store and purchase this album. As I thumbed though the beautiful lyrics booklet with illustrations by the amazing Jay Ryan, I realized that this would be a good way to stop all this music piracy business. You just have to have the whole package. It’s not often that I want to put a CD on the stereo and curl up by the fire with the lyrics booklet. It’s that good.

Like the best of the later Elvis Costello albums, “The Mysterious Production of Eggs has you smiling at the lovely voice playing with the tumbling, sweet melodies. It takes a few listens to catch most of the dark, subversive lyrics — unless you're reading along. 

In “Banking on a Myth,” he swoons “it’s a lukewarm liquid diet / they're force feeding / when the words we use have lost their bite / now they hit you like an imaginary pillow fight.” His reality is pretty dark, but it’s a sentimental darkness that knows that there should be light somewhere, even if it’s not visible now. 

In “Tables and Chairs,” the future has a little more hope in it:  “I know we’re gonna meet some day in the crumbled financial institutions of this land / there will be tables and chairs / pony rides and dancing bears / there’ll even be a band.”  Bird's writing is truly lyrical. It's playful and free-form.  He likes the sounds the words make as much as their meaning.  It's a rare album that contains the words rheostat, cephalopod and Adderall.  But don't think that Bird's simply a big-word dropper; it’s just that he seems to have a crush on words.

It's hard to keep track of all the instruments that enter and fade in this gorgeous, multi-layered production. The album never feels overworked because Bird keeps it from ever getting muddled.  Like an old watercolorist who effortlessly creates scenes, Bird is an artist who’s been doing this long enough to be completely confident in his brush strokes. 

A classically trained violinist and a noodler of jazz, Bird plays most of the instruments – including glockenspiel – himself.  And “The Mysterious Production of Eggs crosses so many moods that it’s difficult to file it in any category.  I’m reminded at various times of XTC’s “Wasp Star,” the Flaming Lips, Beck, Joe Jackson and Arlo Guthrie. 

“Skin Is, My” is an infectious tropical number with strings plucking out a wiggly heartbeat.  And the homicidal narrative of “Fake Palidromes” is sung over a snake-charming, belly-dancing sway of violins.  All styles are very much Andrew Bird, though, as the real star of the show is his own voice. His singing is somewhere between Rufus Wainwright and Thom Yorke. It's quite an instrument: lazy and pure and sure and quavery. And he’s not afraid to whistle.  I guess it’s Bird’s ability to stay down to earth and reach such heights at the same time that is so magical.  Like a boy with Huck Finn charm has just designed the Guggenheim.

For more information on Andrew Bird visit: http://www.andrewbird.net/.