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QUICK SPINS: Andrew Bird, Justin Townes Earle

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on May 9, 2012 6:20PM

2012_5_9_bird.jpg Andrew Bird
Break it Yourself

Seeing Andrew Bird live is a mesmerizing experience, thanks largely to the flights of fancy he takes with his vocal style, his violin playing and his whistling. In concert, Bird stretches notes to their breaking point with a bow, can turn a phrase with a hushed whisper or let his whistles fade into the ether. He's a fearless performer who holds audiences in rapt attention.

Which is why it's so frustrating that Bird's albums are a "lather, rinse, repeat" cycle of the very things that make him a captivating live presence. Break It Yourself finds Bird reaching a common ground between his violin virtuosity and the guitar-driven pop of his recent albums. The lead track, "Desperation Breeds..." is vintage Bird, melding all his strengths into a cohesive whole. Unfortunately, that's only one of a handful of standout tracks on Break it Yourself, along with the bouncy "Danse Caribe" and the rolling, shifting "Eyeoneye." The album overall is one that makes ideal background music while working, but doesn't have us reaching to replay every track on it, even after multiple listens. (For the record, the one that does is Useless Creatures.)

Bird gets a lot of props for being a cerebral musician and lyricist.But we'd love to see him make an album someday that had the balls of his work with The Bowl of Fire and Kevin O'Donnell's Quality Six.

Andrew Bird plays the Auditorium Theatre May 12.

2012_5_9_JTE.jpg Justin Townes Earle
Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now

Ballsy is what we can best describe for the latest from Justin Townes Earle, who at this stage in his career is well into developing his own fan base without the piggybacking of his father Steve Earle's last name or that of his namesake Townes Van Zandt. Like Van Zandt and the elder Earle, JTE is a prodigious talent, a formidable songwriter and a musician with vices that could threaten to derail his career if left unchecked. And he doesn't duck away from them or the comparisons to his father: Earle begins "Am I That Lonely Tonight?" with the lyrics “Hear my father on the radio, singin’ ‘Take Me Home Again,’” “Sometimes I wish that I could get away / sometimes I wish that he’d just call,” and “I thought I’d be a better man,” delivered in a weary sigh.

It's that self-awareness that fuels much of Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, but because Earle's reaching from a personal space the songs on the album attain an immediacy that Bird's lack. Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now top-to-bottom gem on the level of its predecessor Harlem River Blues—the middle of the record can be a bit slow in spots— but the roadhouse shuffle of "Baby's Got a Bad Idea," the plaintive country wail of the title track and the classic Nashville of "Maria," with its horn accents, make it a worthy successor to that high water mark.

Justin Townes Earle plays the Park West May 10. That's tomorrow night, y'all.