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Bird lands

Obsessive recording makes for a masterful album


In a decade or so, expect a box set from Andrew Bird, a very big box set with alternate versions of alternate versions of most tracks he's ever released and several that will be making their public debut.

Bird scrapped Mysterious Production of Eggs, his second solo album since leaving Bowl of Fire in 2001, twice before finding what he wanted on the third attempt. In the process, he recorded seven versions of "Measuring Cups," a whimsical violin waltz that plays on fairy tales all Grimm and Gorey, and finds Bird warning "you can't have the cream of the crop and the cream of the same."

"I'm a terrible archivist, so I don't know about the box set. But I've made enough records that I know when it isn't right," says Bird, whose Mysterious Production is one of the most alluring solo albums since M. Ward's similarly intriguing Transfiguration of Vincent. "I can't bear to put something out that doesn't excite me."

That same self-conscious approach is what led Bird out of Bowl of Fire and into his since-successful solo career. After making three albums with the band for Rykodisc and disappointing sales for what became their finale, The Swimming Hour, Bird isolated himself in the rural northwest corner of Illinois. He had planned to work on songs by himself and then bring the band out to record, but by the time he was ready the songs had become his own.

"Moving out into the country changed the music more than I expected. It even changed the music I was hearing because I put myself into this kind of vacuum," he says, noting that--for the first time--he stopped imitating others' styles and simply started reacting to his own. "I just let stuff come out of me that I had never given room, physical or otherwise."

Mysterious Production is the second cycle of that seclusion, as previously documented on 2003's Weather Systems. But he finally seems to have overcome the need for creative confinement and moved beyond the theme ("The feeling that the few things that are mysterious are under attack because once it can becomes real estate") of those records. When he's not on tour, he now splits his time between country and city life, having moved back into Chicago just this year. He's also touring with former Bowl of Fire drummer Kevin O'Donnell and discovering that he still enjoys having someone to bounce ideas off of at soundcheck.

"In Bowl of Fire, I only played onstage and never practiced. But then, I had something to figure out again, how to deal with this solo show, and it brought me this almost religious approach to making music," the former Squirrel Nut Zipper says on his first few days off since January. "It got a little extreme so far as the isolation... . But I just recently rejoined society."

Andrew Bird plays Local 506 with Antenna on Thursday, May 26 at 10 p.m.

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