The first 30 seconds of The Man Killed the Bird, and With the Bird the Song, and With the Song, Himself tell you almost everything you need to know about the record: a crisp acoustic strum, occasional strings or backup vocals to add depth, and fatalistic lyrics about “killing off the things I love” delivered in a slurred, gravelly voice that hints at long years of hard living. The hard-liver in question is the enigmatic Andy the Doorbum, a performer, writer, visual artist, and self-described survival expert. Andy has stayed fiercely independent throughout his career, but he bubbles up from the underground every once in a while like a subsumed memory in our collective consciousness to play relatively big festivals and release great albums, of which The Man Killed The Bird is just the latest.
Stylistically, The Man Killed the Bird falls between William Elliott Whitmore’s earthy banjo revivalism and the mellower side of frontier-obsessed rockers Murder By Death, with hints of folk-rock-punk ala Andrew Jackson Jihad or Flogging Molly. “The Farm” would have sounded at home on AJJ’s recent Rompilation retrospective, and the brawling barroom blasts of “The Favor” would fit in as well on Boston’s Southside as it would in a clapboard Carolina tavern. The album is bawdy but soulful, rough around the edges but not without sweetness in its boozy platitudes and contemplative chants. It’s often viewed as sacrilege to compare anyone to Johnny Cash, but at his best, Andy the Doorbum approaches The Man in Black’s understated simplicity, gruff tenderness and evocative lyricism.
Not all songs are equally strong. “The Orgy” drags itself on far longer than a good orgy should while closer “OomTat” feels out of place when compared with the rest of album. Occasional bouts of pitchiness or off-key howling will put off some casual listeners who assumed from the first 30 seconds that this was a traditional folk record throughout, but as Andy emphatically declares on “The Farm”: “I’ve heard tell of a thing called tradition/Well, we don’t buy that shit anymore.”