The Bowl of Fire featured musicians from Bird’s home town of Chicago, including Kevin O’Donnell, Joshua Hirsch, Nora O’Connor, Andy Hopkins, Jimmy Sutton, Colin Bunn, and Ryan Hembrey. Members of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Katherine Whalen and James Mathus also appeared on Thrills.) During this period, Andrew Bird was a member of the jazz group Kevin O’Donnells Quality Six, for which he was the lead singer and violinist and contributed to arrangements and songwriting for the albums Heretic Blues (Delmark 1999) and Control Freak (Delmark 2000) (both Delmark albums were designed by Raymond Salvatore Harmon). In 2001, the Bowl of Fire released their third album, The Swimming Hour, a dramatic departure from their previous recordings. It featured a mixture of styles, from the zydeco-influenced “Core and Rind” to far more basic rock songs such as “11:11”. Due to this eclectic yet pop-like nature, Bird has typically referred to it as his “jukebox album”. Although gaining critical praise (The Swimming Hour received a 9.0 from indie music website Pitchfork), the band failed to attain commercial success or recognition, playing to audiences as small as 40 men and women.
In 2002, Bird was asked to open for a band in his hometown of Chicago, but fellow Bowl of Fire members were unavailable for the date. The reluctant Bird performed the gig alone, and the surprising success of this solo show suggested potential clean directions for his music. The Bowl of Fire unofficially disbanded in 2003, and Bird went on to radically re-invent himself as a solo artist.
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