I love the work of the musician Tim O’Brien. I compiled the videos below this morning when I discovered that Tim’s “Time To Learn” was finally available on YouTube. When I listened to the video yesterday, the song reduced me to tears, as it always does.
I pulled down my stack of Tim’s recordings some five or six inches high to jog my memory of his work. Looking through the discs this morning, I selected a few numbers from the catalog available on YouTube to share my enthusiasm for O’Brien, for bluegrass and country, for traditional music, for beautifully written songs. I thought they might make for a pleasant change of pace this morning.
I first saw Tim perform live at the Cedar Theater in Minneapolis on the Hot Rize reunion tour. I was grateful for the reunion. I had never heard of them the first time around. Along with Newgrass Revival, Hot Rize was one of the groups making bluegrass new again in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Hot Rize was an incredible group on its own terms. It also set the table for Tim’s solo career.
Tim wrote “Walk the Way the Wind Blows” while he was with Hot Rize. The group performs it live in the video below. Country fans may recall that Kathy Mattea turned it into a hit in 1986.
Tim’s former Hot Rize colleague (bassist) Nick Forster is the proprietor of the syndicated eTown show. Hot Rize got together with Jerry Douglas (dobro) & Stuart Duncan (fiddle) on eTown for a performance of the Hot Rize classic “Just Like You.”
In January 2018, Hot Rize brought along their friends Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Stuart Duncan to celebrate their 40th Anniversary as a band. The three sold out shows were recorded for a live album. The old Hot Rize number “Colleen Malone” (below) is from that album.
Hot Rize had an alter ego they called Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers. The Red Knuckles group made an appearance after intermission of the show at I saw at the Cedar. The late, great Roger Miller’s “Kansas City Star” was one of the numbers they performed. This version is from Live at the Left Hand Grange Hall (1982).
Tim has pursued a productive solo career. The first of his solo CD’s in my stack is Odd Man In (1991). Lyle Lovett writes in the liner notes: “The only thing odd about Tim O’Brien is that he is a consistently great singer, player and songwriter.” On Tim’s “Hold To a Dream” Stuart Duncan lends his unmistakable backing on fiddle, as does Jerry Douglas on dobro. Tim’s sister Mollie O’Brien helps out on the harmony.
A New York Times feature on modern bluegrass music included a recommendation of the Tim O’Brien and the O’Boys (Mark Schatz and Scott Nygaard) disc Oh Boy!! O’Boy! (1993, produced by Jerry Douglas). It must be the first Tim O’Brien disc I bought.
Tim wrote “Time To Learn” with Pat Alger. In the liner notes Tim writes that he lost two siblings before their time. “My mother tells the story of my older sister Mollie (who would have been three years old at the time) waiting on the front porch for our older sister, Brigid, to come home from school.” Mary-Chapin Carpenter is on the harmony vocal.
“Few Are Chosen” is also from the O’Boys disc. Tim wrote it with country artist Hal Ketchum.
Tim has recorded a few discs with Mollie. I love Away Out On the Mountain (1994). “Don’t Let Me Come Home a Stranger” was written by Robin and Linda Williams/Jerome Clark. “Lord, save me from this darkest fear.”
Tim recorded a set of Dylan covers on Red On Blonde (1996). I love the musicianship on “Wicked Messenger.” In the liner notes Tim writes: “I turned Charlie McCoy’s bass line [on Dylan’s John Wesley Harding album] into the Bill Monroe mandolin riff at the beginning.”
When No One’s Around (1997) was also produced by Jerry Douglas. Douglas must play on just about every track in my compilation here. Tim wrote “Kick Me When I’m Down” with Gary Nicholson.
Tim wrote “When You Come Back Down” with Danny O’Keefe.
Tim explored his Irish heritage on Two Journeys (2001). I have plucked “What Does the Deep Sea Say?” off it below. The credits include Darrell Scott on guitar and Karan Casey on the lead vocal. In the liner notes Tim writes: “Bill and Charlie Monroe recorded this one in the 1930s. I suspect it comes from the 1800s. Thank to the countless unknown and unnamed writers of the great body of traditional music.” Tim brought a big ensemble with him to perform Irish-themed music live at the Cedar Theater in Minneapolis after this disc came out. He played guitar, fiddle, and mandolin. The place was packed and Tim put on a show that has to rank among my top 10 favorites. I have to say the show was much better than the disc.
There is a a thread of humor in Tim’s writing and performing. Let’s leave off this morning with “Pompadour,” the title track from his 2015 disc. I have skimmed lightly over his career and overlooked many of his recordings. I hope you might follow up on your own.