Home Read Album Of The Week: Jimbo Mathus & Andrew Bird | These 13

Album Of The Week: Jimbo Mathus & Andrew Bird | These 13

The former Squirrel Nut Zippers reconnect for an intimate set of rustic roots music.

584

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “For the first time in decades, Jimbo Mathus and Andrew Bird have come together  for These 13, an album about the special type of human connection that can survive any distance of time or geography. As former collaborators in Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mathus and Bird’s friendship dates back 25 years, but at the turn of the century their career paths diverged. Both became highly accomplished, acclaimed and prolific solo artists, and though they remained close friends, they did not return to musical collaboration until 2018, when they started exchanging the fragments that grew into this set of 13 songs.

Jimbo Mathus and Andrew Bird co-wrote all of These 13, sharing voice memos, finishing each other’s musical thoughts. Across the album they reveal themselves to one another again, and the conversation that unfolds is personal and profound. Produced by Mike Viola, the first half of the album was recorded in early 2019, and the second half was finished in early 2020. Every song was recorded live to analog tape, with Mathus and Bird singing and playing on opposite sides of a lone RCA 44 microphone.

On reconnecting with Jimbo for These 13, Andrew Bird says: “Up until meeting Jimbo, all my musical heroes were dead. Jimbo was anything but and just oozed musicality of a kind I thought was extinct. Had I not met Jimbo, who knows, but I think my music would have gone on a much more cerebral, complex trajectory. He is an enigma, a walking contradiction: wild yet refined, worldly yet colloquial. He represents his own branch of the American musical tree. It’s been my dream for years now to make this record with Jimbo. Just guitar, fiddle and our very different voices. I wanted to make sure you can really hear him as if for the first time.”

On the roots of his relationship with Andrew, Jimbo Mathus adds: “Musically speaking, Andrew challenged me early on. As I had the deep south rural musical upbringing but had yearned to know more of the Chicago and New York scenes of those early days of American popular music. Bird had schooled himself on that, absorbing the European strains of American music and theater, as well as the Chicago-based indigenous albeit transplanted African American musical heritage. It was a true mutual benefit society and we both pursued those goals to a final conclusion. At some point after Andrew had been on the road as Bowl of Fire, he began mutating his music and creating an entirely new form. In other words, he started to become the artist he needed to be at that time and so did I.”

In reflecting on the album, the award-winning author Michael Farris Smith writes: “These 13 is a little bit folk, a little bit gospel, a little bit bluesy, a little bit Hank, a little bit hill country, but most emphatically, it is all heart. Andrew Bird and Jimbo Mathus have climbed the height of their creative ladders in this collection of soul-strung songs, both lyrically and musically, a synchronicity between the two that feels joined in some special imaginative place that can only be visited by the best of songwriters.”