Tag Archives: Music

Andrew Bird – The Crown Salesman & So Much Wine

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Andrew Bird has been releasing records in some form or another for the past 16 years (1996 he first contributed to a Squirrel Nut Zippers Record). Most known for his exquisite skills as a whistler(notably appearing at the end of The Muppets), Mr. Bird is a multi-instrumentalist who creates music that defies most descriptive genre labels. At times folk, at times pop, and in moments ethereal and other worldly, Andrew Bird creates compositions that are uniquely his own.

In preparation for Mr. Bird’s album, Break It Yourself, he released this 7″. The release is actually two cover songs, the a-side, ‘The Crown Salesman’, was originally performed by a band called Alpha Consumer, which is Jeremy Ylvisaker‘s band, who is also Bird’s touring guitarist. The b-side is called “So Much Wine” and is performed by The Handsome Family, an alt-country band formed in 1993.

What did we think of the songs? We’re gonna tell you!

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Rob: I don’t know if there’s such thing as a typical Andrew Bird song, or a typical Andrew Bird sound, but to me, the intro distortion and guitar sound announce that this is going to be a song by Andrew Bird (even though it really doesn’t sound a whole lot like many other Andrew Bird songs). There’s a slow building distortion. The ever present violin, but a guitar that seems to be trying to find it’s voice, but can only let out high pitched distortions of voice.

Later in the song, after the second verse, there’s an almost screeching-ness into the violin and guitars. It’s right on the borderline between being pleasurable musically and nails on a chalkboard, but it just rides the line. It’s small things like that, intricate sounds that on first listen seem simple, but upon further reflection seem to be down right hard to create.

The lyrics, at first, seem to be almost anthemic, supported by a driving, march like drum (or an early Bruce Sprinsteen rock and roll beat, just slowed down (boom   – – da da). Riffing on the Statue of Liberty,  Mr. Bird sings, ‘bring me your trampling masses, your Sunday best’. It seems as though the Crown Salesman is running the game. We only get two verses and the chorus twice, with the rest of the song creating the atmospheric violin / guitar distortion described above. Check out the original version, to see how Andrew Bird makes it his own, adding the distortion and his own unique brand of singing.

Eric: The way the guitar starts out in the song, its like a paragraph starting with a period, or maybe an ellipsis.  As if the guitar is saying, what was I saying? Oh, that’s right.  Then Andrew Bird’s voice cuts it, but throughout the song it feels as if he and his guitar are struggling: each one wants to have the floor to speak. When he sings “I am the Crown Salesman!” the guitar then comes in as if to answer, “Oh, really?” and in the end, it seems as if Mr. Bird loses his struggle and the guitar and violin take the floor to let out the chaos that he had been holding back.

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Rob: ‘So Much Wine’ is also a cover. And far more traditional as we begin with just a simple acoustic guitar accompanying Andrew. In come the brushed snares, and then a little later the single twangy guitar. If anything, this song demonstrates that Andrew Bird might have a second career as a country artist. His voice still retains it’s majestic or baroque qualities, but he still manages to impart a small bit of twang.

In quintessential country song fashion, ‘So Much Wine’ is about drinking (obviously, I suppose). And like any good country song, it’s not about the loss and loneliness that that wine causes. The narrator seems to be counseling his significant other, and realizes that her problems are deeper than any glass of wine can help. Until the drinking itself has become the problem. And all he can do is drive away, and contemplate the stars.

In the second half of the song though, the solo guitar loses it’s twang and instead we get a little bit of the distortion we heard in the first song. Not an all encompassing distortion, but the twang is allowed to stretch a little bit, to float off into the night sky, as if the song was being played around a camp-fire, with coyotes coming closer in the woods and howling their pleasure to every line.

Eric: “When you fell asleep/with blood on your teeth/I just got in my car/And drove away” sounds like it could be a line from a song about vampires. Though this is not the case, it is very much so a song tinged from beginning to end with melancholy, talking about the tragedy of alcohol and relationships. I absolutely love the refrain of “Listen Butterfly/there’s only so much wine/you can drink/in one night/and it will never be enough/to save you from the bottom/of the glass”. No matter what you do, eventually you have to come back to the sober reality, consequences and loneliness that come with the next morning. I think Andrew Bird puts a great spin on this song, carrying it out and away.