The problem with most retro swing bands these days is that no matter how much they love pre-rock novelties, they're own take on the music isn't nearly novel enough. Andrew Bird, however, is novelty personified -- a singer-songwriter whose fanciful string band creations alternately suggest the influence of Lewis Carroll, Dr. Seuss, Fats Waller, Kurt Weill, Loudon Wainwright III and Tom Waits. Toss in a few fiddle licks that span the globe, and what you have is a multiple musical personality on the loose. In short, free Bird.
"Oh! The Grandeur" finds the bandleader indulging his passion for words and wordplay as well as the transatlantic pulse and permutations of swing. A curious case in point is "What Your Angle (Triangle?)," which combines a finger-popping beat, abruptly inserted tango rhythms and a tongue-twisting lyric. But even better are "Tea & Thorazine," "Vidalia" and the album's sour-tempered coda, "A Drinking Song (in the Grande Style)," which includes the toast: "May all your wool stockings fit a little too tight."
Musicians of a feather flock together here, orchestrating Bird's strange musings and surreal tales with an evocative but neither rigid nor reverent blending of Colin Bunn's guitar, Josh Hisrch's bass and Kevin O'Donell's percussion. Small wonder Bird's music flies by.
Appearing Saturday at the Black Cat with the Flying Neutrinos. To hear a free Sound Bite from Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8101. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)