January 06, 2002

Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire "The Swimming Hour"

Even though I'm completly happy with the fact that the whole swing fad died a quick and quiet death, I will not knock some of the folk who performed during this flash in the pan fad. Certain bands really had the groove, and the heart, to make some really great music. Don't hate the player, hate the game. One such band that deserves to be rewarded a special place in heaven is Squirrel Nut Zippers. Though my knowledge of them is limited, what I've heard has been excellent, and Andrew Bird's been involved with them for some time, I think.

Anyway, there's nothing here that's anything like the Squirrel Nut Zippers, at least not directly. What is here, however, is a damn fine album of blues and rock, inspired somewhat by that whole "swing era" thing. The Swimming Hour isn't swing, thank god. It's something better. It's something for everyone. Want a slow, seductive little ballad? Skip over to track 3, "Why?" and you'll get your fill. You want feet to the floor, dancing with your baby rock? Track 12, "How Indiscreet," will set your toe to tappin' and your head to boppin'. Want some blues? "Satisfied," track 10, will probably treat you well.

What makes The Swimming Hour even nicer are those surprises here and there. Just when you think you've got the groove of the album, he throws in a gypsy-style fiddle here and a tuba there and a mandolin over there. All throughout the album, however, are songs that will sink deep into your heart, make an indention into your soul, and you'll always have a soft spot for them, or at least I know that I do. And...and, and, and, and....the best part? Kelly Hogan on backing vocals. That's all that needs to be said, at least for me. Her sweet voice really fits well with Andrew's, and the vocal interplay is really dazzling. Not since Kiki Dee hooked up with Elton John have boy/girl vocals worked so well. Just listen to "Core and Grind" more than once, and you'll be singing along with them.

The Swimming Hour is one of those albums that's not of one genre, and can only be classified with one term: music. Good music. Mr. Andrew has something going on here, and it's all over the place, but it's a good all over the place. From what I've heard, the Bowl of Fire are one red-hot live band, and this album clearly shows why. Few are the records that make me want to see the live performance, and The Swimming Hour is one of them. Andrew Bird seems to understand the secret so few musicians know: anyone can sing, it takes true talent to entertain, and that's clearly Andrew's forte. He's an entertainer, whose sound is retro, yet incredibly modern. Bluesy, yet rocky. Jazzy, yet poppy. If I could beseech The Swimming Hour with one award, I would clearly name this the best Beck album of the year.

--Joseph Kyle

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