“Sweet Oblivion” arrives with a clip of Bird and Mathus performing the track against a gorgeous backdrop landscape in Ojai, California. The scene fits the song’s plucky folk vibe, as Mathus steadily picks his acoustic guitar while Bird handles lead vocals and alternates between strumming his fiddle and making it keen with the bow.
Bird and Mathus’ friendship dates back 25 years to when Bird played with the Squirrel Nut Zippers in the mid-Nineties; he appeared on three of the swing revivalist’s albums, including their wildly successful 1996 record, Hot. Bird and Mathus’ paths diverged around 2000 as they embarked on successful solo careers, although they remained friends and began collaborating again in 2018. (Along with making These 13 with Mathus, Bird guested on Squirrel Nut Zippers’ “Train on Fire” from their 2020 album, Lost Songs Of Doc Souchon.)
Per a press release, Bird and Mathus wrote Theses 13 by sharing voice memos and “finishing each other’s musical thoughts.” The first half of the album was recorded in early 2019, while the rest was finished in early 2020. Mike Viola produced the album, and every song was recorded live to analog tape with Mathus and Bird singing and playing on opposite sides of a single RCA 44 microphone.
“Musically speaking, Andrew challenged me early on,” Mathus said of his relationship with Bird in a statement. “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.”
“Up until meeting Jimbo, all my musical heroes were dead,” Bird said. “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.”