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  Weather Systems
Artist: Andrew Bird
Label: Grimsey Records

Top marks (again) to former Squirrel Nut Zippers collaborator Bird, who arrived like a pre-war music purist with 1998’s Thrills and 1999’s Oh! The Grandeur (both with his Bowl of Fire band), and is on track to manage a fairly thorough reinvention with each successive project.  If 2001’s The Swimming Hour was the album for the wild night of club-hopping, Weather Systems is the head-soothing antidote for the morning after.  Bird is touring solo in 2003, and this album emphasizes material that he can render alone.  Bowl of Fire members aren’t entirely absent from this solo project, however; Bowl drummer and Quality Six bandleader Kevin O’Donnell guests on a few songs, while vocalist Nora O’Connor appears on “First Song,” “Lull,” and “Don’t Be Scared.”   Weather Systems opens with a musical treatment of Galway Kinnell’s “First Song” poetry, during which Bird introduces a nifty whistling ability.  The album concludes with a cover of 2002 tourmate The Handsome Family’s “Don’t Be Scared.”  Both illuminate this gifted instrumentalist’s appreciation for songcraft  and wordplay.  During “Lull,” Bird sings that he’ll “go a little overboard, but hang onto the hull,” and finds that he’s “the ‘I’ in your team” in “Action/Adventure.”

Bird’s violin playing remains as comfortable as his singing voice; he conjures gypsy string flavors and harp-like tones on the album’s title track, “Elanor Rigby”-styled layers on “Action/Adventure,” and plucked guitar-like tones during “I.”  This is Bird’s fourth successive release to make me jealous of Chicago-based friends who have opportunity to see Bird perform on a regular basis, and incensed with them for squandering it.  You know who you are.   

Jeff Elbel 10/14/2003

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