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Tim O’Brien Tim O’Brien
Album: Where The River Meets The Road
Label: Howdy Skies
Tracks: 12
Website: http://www.timobrien.net

Tim’s already produced some of the most enduring, and highly classy, country-bluegrass-oldtime-roots records of the past three decades. The connecting theme of Tim’s latest offering is songs from the musical heritage of his home state of West Virginia. This theme enables him to intersperse a couple of his own heartfelt original autobiographical songs – the wonderful Guardian Angel (a peerless duet with sister Mollie) and the disc’s hot-rizeing title track – but then he’s quick to shift the focus back onto his clear inspirations, by covering the writing of some of the state’s key songsmiths. Chief among these, of course, is Hazel Dickens, whose A Few Old Memories – affectionately done as a simple duet with new partner Jan Fabricius – is another of the disc’s high points. Tim also takes on the writing of Billy Edd Wheeler (High Flying Bird), Bill Withers (Grandma’s Hands) and Curly Ray Cline (Windy Mountain), always emerging with flying colours of course, while his spirited, authentic-as-they-come cover of A.P. Carter’s Little Annie (When The Springtime Comes Again) ensures a suitably rousing goodtime finale to the disc.

It goes without saying that for this latest project Tim’s gathered together a dream roster of willing collaborators – musicians (Stuart Duncan, Noam Pikelny, Chris Stapleton, Bryan Sutton, Viktor Krauss, Mike Bub, Chris Scruggs and John Gardner) and singers (Kathy Mattea, Mollie O’Brien and Jan Fabricius).Their contributions are handpicked according to the song, and take us reliably through gospel (Friday, Sunday’s Coming) and honky-tonk swing (Drunkard’s Grave) as well as bluegrass and country idioms. Never a misjudged note or nuance, and excellence is the watchword.

As always, Tim has an acute feel for the optimum setting; his bouzouki gives something of a puckish, playful Irish feel to My Old Brown Coat And Me and his spirited cover of Larry Groce’s When The Mist Clears Away (the latter a real discovery by the way). And as well as the songs, there’s an awesome instrumental rendition of the traditional air Queen Of The Earth And Child Of The Skies, where Tim’s fiddle soars majestically above Nathaniel Smith’s cello.

Where The River Meets The Road is yet another inspired, inspirational and completely satisfying album from Tim. Since (as he openly admits) it only scratches the surface of West Virginia’s musical heritage, I would love to see a second volume in due course. For, as Tim says in his liner note, he “will always remain a proud son of West Virginia”; and this pride is manifest in every note he plays and sings. No more need be said.

David Kidman