“I make records between my own records that teach me a little bit about how to further get along in whatever this sort of continuum is,” he explains. “And I feel like the final thing I haven’t nailed down after 12 of my own records is the singing. I know I can sing better than what has been captured on record.”
With his latest, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of …, the 40-year-old Bird uses the songs of husband-wife songwriting duo the Handsome Family as the key to unlock the “full-throated” vox he craves.
“I feel like I can sing differently with someone else’s material, and I think a lot of artists would probably agree with that,” he asserts. “When you’ve conceived the song from scratch, when you’ve birthed this thing and it’s been living with you for years, it can be a bit burdened.”
Don’t expect a strict hoot night from Bird’s current turn at the Paramount, however. Just as he did with traditional folk ballads and Townes Van Zandt on 2012’s Hands of Glory, Bird puts his own mark on the material.
“I don’t think there’s a point in doing someone else’s material if you’re going to do it in a faithful way,” he contends. “There’s no point in covering songs that are very familiar to people.”
And even in its relative obscurity, Bird counts former touring partners the Handsome Family as songwriting greats in the same vein as Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, and John Prine.
“They’re at that level,” he assures. “They do what the best John Prine song would do, which is distill some sort of emotional idea into a really dense couple of words. I just wanted to bring that to a larger audience.” – Abby Johnston