ANDREW BIRD: MUSIC OF HAIR (1996)
1) Nuthinduan Waltz; 2) Ambivalence Waltz; 3) Oh So Insistent; 4) Rhodeaoh; 5) Two Sisters; 6) St. Francis Reel; 7) Ratitat/Peter's Wolf/Oblivious; 8) The Greenhorn/Exile Of Erin/Glasgow Reel; 9) Pathetique; 10) Song Of Foot; 11) Minor Beatrice; 12) Oh So Sad.
Technically, the date of 1996 makes Andrew Bird an «earlier» artist than the ones tackled in this section. However, Music Of Hair is not really a proper «album» — it is an early self-released effort, belonging in a regular discography because and only because, in our ever progressing world, the phenomenon of «raw early demos», recorded by young inexperienced artists and quickly shelved, only to be released decades later as curios — and only if the artist in question had become big enough to warrant some commercial demand for them — this phenomenon has mutated into one of «early self-released tape / CD», in which the artist decides for himself whether he wants or not to have a wider world listen to his very first plinkings and plunkings in the studio (or, even more frequently, in his own bedroom or basement).
This has its good and bad sides, with most people brushing away the bad with the sacral maxim of «If you don't like, don't listen». But it is hard for me to imagine anyone who would seriously like Andrew Bird's Music Of Hair — which really only works as a set of rehearsals / tunings for the first real stage of his career, with Bowl Of Fire.
A professionally trained violinist, Andrew Bird got his bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1996 and immediately proceeded to demonstrate that the money was not poorly spent by recording an album full to the brim with violin music — or, should I say «fiddle music» because there is not a lot of Paganini influence to be discerned. Much of this stuff is just Bird exercising solo, occasionally — but rarely — singing as well, although on a few tracks he is joined by fellow musicians, including members of Squirrel Nut Zippers.
There is no denying that, already on this patch of demos, Andrew does give the impression of a rare Bird indeed. As long as one does not venture too far outside the first two or three tracks, this is relatively traditional folk, mostly Celtic waltzes and ballads played in a rather grating manner, sometimes adorned with Bird's own lyrics that are this music's only hard link to modern times. But the further down we go, the more adventurous the guy becomes, gradually integrating free-form jazz, modern classical, old-style cabaret, and even raga motives into the mix until the only element that ties it all together remains the idea of the violin as lead instrument.
I have to acknowledge that my major reaction from all this is a splitting headache; it is very hard for me to stomach fifty five minutes of violin when the violinist is anything less than David Oistrakh, and Andrew Bird sure has a long way to go to get there. Competent, unquestionably yes; inventive, most assuredly so; and the album as such has a good synthetic reason to exist — but for about thirty-five out of fifty-five minutes, all it does to me is destroy my ears in a way that only people like Yoko Ono may be able to understand.
So I will take the predictable and conventional route: Music Of Hair establishes Mr. Bird as a guy who can make music, and its release served the good purpose of getting him signed to a real label, but leave it to the MoMA crowds to call it a serious work of art; I call it a curious introduction to the real Andrew Bird.