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TIM O'BRIEN –WHERE THE RIVER MEETS THE ROAD (Howdy Skies)

http://www.timobrien.net

It is always a special day when a new album featuring the multi-talented Tim O’Brien comes along, and Where The River Meets The Road is one is no exception. O’Brien isn’t only a master of the fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo and bouzouki and a great songwriter (and fine producer) but he is also an amazing maker of concept albums. The Crossing and Two Journeys plus Songs From The Mountain (songs, tunes and hymns either directly or indirectly referred to in Charles Frazier’s book Cold Mountain) made with Dirk Powell and John Herrmann. Released in 1998, way before the original soundtrack recording from the movie, Cold Mountain are all must hear recordings. As for where and how high in the ratings do I view Where The River Meets The Road, I believe it is one of his best ever. Possessing greater warmth and fluidity than on some albums O'Brien lifts the bar!      

 

Though a long time resident of Nashville O’Brien hasn’t forgotten his West Virginia roots over the years. Born and raised in Wheeling, West Virginia he was also behind the record Always Lift Him Up a Tribute To Alfred Reed. This as he helped assemble various acts to perform his work, those taking part ranged from Connie Smith and Marty Stuart to Kathy Mattea by way of John Lilly, Charlie McCoy, Todd Burge, Ray Benson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Larry Groce and his own sister, Mollie O’Brien plus others. The West Virginia Music Hall Of Famer has also worked with the WVMHF the last ten years, and this time he's come through with an of material written by acts from his home state. One such act, John Lilly provides gospel ode “Friday, Sunday's Coming” has Mollie provide some crucial work as she is given freedom the express herself; and she isn't the only one on the record, just take a listen to the pickers make hay on the Bailes' Brothers “Drunkard's Grave” if you need a quick fix of real country music. Eat your heart out BR5-49 as Scruggs and Victor Krauss (upright bass) etc mop up! 

 

Added to songs from far-reaching acts Bill Withers, Groce, Lilly, Curly Ray Cline (long time member of Ralph Stanley’s band, Rank Strangers), Hazel Dickens, A.P Carter and the Bailes Brothers are two songs of his own plus two covers of traditional fare. Talking about his own work, they could not be stronger or more poignant than “Guardian Angel” that speaks of an older sister that died before he got to know her, she was only six. Featuring Mollie on vocals and Tim’s soulful tones every lyric is beautifully underlined. It is classic O’Brien. Among other things it offers some of the finest mandolin one could wish for (Stuart Duncan). While Duncan’s fiddle, Norm Pikelny’s banjo, Mike Bub’s upright bass support the bluegrass paced “Where The River Meets The Road”, a historic fashioned song it retraces the journey of his great, great grandfather, Thomas O’Brien. Who made the journey from Ireland in the 1800s to the eastern banks of the Ohio River to Wheeling. Both are, as you would expect impress greatly. Likewise goes for Groce’s “When The Mist Drifts Away” , and a jaunty version of “My Old Brown Coat And Me” (trad. arr. Doc Williams). Kenny Malone Djembe, Dennis Crouch (upright bass), Nathaniel Smith (cello) join O’Brien; who apart from singing faultless lead vocal he likewise hits the mark on fiddle and bouzouki. On reflection I believe, musically it contains arguably the finest blend on the record. But hey! Cries out my inner soul as O’Brien in the company of Chris Stapleton (he also does his stuff on Billy Edd Wheeler’s fantastic bluegrass tune “High Flying Bird”) and Mattea on vocals. While fans of pedal steel and masterful country electric guitar Chris Scruggs cooks up something special.

 

Other songs to capture my attention Hazel Dickens’ heart-tugging “Few Old Memories”, and doesn’t he nail it. He is helped by among others his partner Jan Fabricius on harmony vocals. She likewise hits stride on “Little Annie” as an old Carter Family favourite is dusted down, and have O’Brien likewise dust down his fiddle! I am pleased to report isn’t the only time it ventures out of its case, because he provides the record also features some beautiful traditional fiddle playing on “Queen Of The Earth And Child Of The Skies” (trad), and he has Smith join him on a duet instrumental of the rarest quality.

 

                                                                         Maurice Hope 

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November 2017

1
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