Album Review of
Fiddler's Green

Written by Joe Ross
February 18, 2014 - 12:00am EST
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Over the years, multi-instrumentalist Tim O'Brien has shown the unusual knack to be equally comfortable with jazz, bluegrass, swing, and Celtic music. The eclectic acoustic musician, originally from West Virginia, is certainly not afraid to walk the line between several genres of music. Thus, he's become one of the purveyors and ambassadors of Americana music. Besides being a fine singer with a definable sound, Tim plays guitar, fiddle, bouzouki, and mandolin on this album.

The title cut is a bounding tale of the sea written by Pete Goble which speaks of a sailor being "lured by the tradewinds" to find that enchanting but mythical utopia with women, music and sustenance. When Tim wants a rousing Celtic feeling ("Land's End/Chasin' Talon), he supplements his own mandolin with the support of guys like Jack Doyle (guitar), Kenny Malone (djembe, cajon), Casey Driessen (fiddle), Dirk Powell (bass), Seamus Egan (low whistle). The bluegrass line-up ("Look Down that Lonesome Road") enlists veteran sidemen like Charlie Cushman (banjo), Jerry Douglas (resophonic guitar), Dan Tyminski (guitar), and Dennis Crouch (bass). What is particularly nice is that Tim's arrangements range from a fiddle/vocal solo ("A Few More Years") or guitar/vocal solo ("Buffalo Skinner") to full ensembles that incorporate dynamics into the genesis of their songs like "Fair Flowers of the Valley" that features Tim singing with his sister, Mollie. Another lean, but very successful, arrangement is the duo "Foreign Lander" (Tim's fiddle/vocals with Edgar Meyer playing arco bass) that presents a ballad of a rambling soldier conquered by his love's beauty.

The last third of the album (4 songs) has a good cross-section of Tim's approach. His original and high-stepping old-timey "Train on the Island" introduces Chris Thile (mandolin) and Stuart Duncan (banjo, fiddle). While the twin fiddling is spectacular, I missed hearing some vocal harmony on the refrain "train on the island, hear that whistle blow." After the lean "A Few More Years," we're treated to perhaps one of the best arrangements ever of an old favorite, "Long Black Veil." Dan Dugmore's pedal steel gives the song its unique eeriness, and the duo is sung with Darrell Scott. Tim closes the project with "Early Morning Rain," from a profound troubadour not too unlike himself, Gordon Lightfoot. The sweet notes of bouzouki, fiddle and mandolin weave their way effortlessly between the words.

O'Brien is a minstrel with great command of his lyrics and melodies. Besides being a songcarrier for traditional music, he's also a songsmith of contemporary songs that could've been written hundereds of years ago. His musical acumen demonstrates keen insight and creativity. With his astute approach of emphasizing diversity, Tim O'Brien offers a set with plenty for everyone. (Joe Ross)