By Michael Henningsen
Andrew Bird The Mysterious Production of Eggs (Righteous Babe)
Since extinguishing his Bowl of Fire, Andrew Bird has come on strong as a viciously talented singer-songwriter or the Randy Newman stripe. The Mysterious Production of Eggs comes two years after Bird's debut solo outing, Weather Systems, confounded Bowl of Fire fans and won Bird an entire cache of new ones. According to Bird, the new album was scrapped three times and re-recorded in as many different studios. But whether he's just a perfectionist or a pretentious, obsessed manic-depressive, the guy has made an incredible record—the best of his career.
Iron & Wine Woman King (Sub Pop)
Iron & Wine fans: prepare to be dismayed. Sam Beam's latest outing contains his best batch of songs yet, but there are only six of them. That's right, Beam, the reluctant folk genius, had the audacity to release an EP after last year's borderline brilliant Our Endless Numbered Days. Of course, when it comes to songwriters like Sam Beam, some is far better than none. Conceptually, the songs are woven on a reverent feminist loom, with Beam exploring his own idea of the strength and power of women in his life. The resulting album is a tender knockout.
Clem Snide End of Love (spinART)
Clem Snide, alt.country's own Camper Van Beethoven, haven't had an easy time of things—major-label failure, personal tragedy mixed with members scattered between Nashville and Brooklyn, pennilessness—but you'd almost never know it listening to their fifth album. There are exceptions, like the tear-jerking “Collapse” and the wry, plaintive “God Answers Back.” But, for the most part, chief songwriter Eef Barzelay and Co. pull off a collection of tunes that are lightheartedly clever, but never too lighthearted or clever. End of Love is the kind of record Jeff Tweedy might make if he grew a personality.
Maxwell • singer-