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Chicago's Andrew Bird has undergone an amazing transformation since playing traditional fiddle with the novelty-prone Squirrel Nut Zippers back in the '90s. Following 2007's mesmerizing, idiosyncratic Armchair Apocrypha, the intriguing Noble Beast feels like an extended vacation inside one man's daydreams, with Bird's melancholy violin and expressive whistling (no kidding!) setting a tone that's alternately hopeful and gloomy. Despite passing echoes of Jeff Buckley and Caetano Veloso, his voice has an otherworldly allure all its own, befitting the puzzlelike lyrics of eerie songs such as "Oh No" and "Not a Robot, but a Ghost."