Tim O'Brien,
Fiddler's Green
(Howdy Skies, 2005)

You never know what to expect from a Tim O'Brien CD, except for quality music. You may hear bluegrass, folk, jazz, Celtic or any combination of the above and more. With Fiddler's Green, we get another eclectic blend of acoustic music that's more in the Celtic/bluegrass tradition, and it's another gem in O'Brien's crown. He's joined by a raft of sympathetic compatriots, and together they lay down a dozen fine tracks.

"Pretty Fair Maid in the Garden" is a gorgeous English-style ballad that takes us to the shores of the New World with "Look Down That Lonesome Road," a straight-ahead bluegrass O'Brien kicker in which he perfectly captures that old time sound. He's given great support by Charlie Cushman on banjo and Jerry Douglas on resophonic guitar. The title track is almost like a sequel to the well-known "Fiddler's Green," filled with regret at having sought that paradise these many years, and with a wonderful sing-along chorus.

"Land's End/Chasin' Talon" is a classic Celtic instrumental with Seamus Egan's low whistle and Casey Driessen's fiddle in tight and edgy unison, while O'Brien provides stirring improvisations on mandolin. Kenny Malone's djembe and cajon help to make the full instrumental sound unique and infectious. Mollie O'Brien joins brother Tim in a lovely duet on "Fair Flowers of the Valley," a murder ballad that skillfully uses the juxtaposition of violence and beauty.

A true instrumental highlight follows with "Foreign Lander," a duet between O'Brien on fiddle and vocal and the miraculous Edgar Meyer on arco bass. The two weave tones and overtones into a sumptuous harmonic whole. There's a nice change of pace in the traditional "Buffalo Skinners," always a good story and one O'Brien tells well. He then fiddles up a snowstorm on "First Snow," an instrumental that would be perfect for a barn dance. It's fiddlers x2 in the next song, with Stuart Duncan contributing some banjo as well as his usual flawless fiddling. Chris Thile takes over mandolin duties and does a crackerjack job.

O'Brien falls into Death Mode next, with "The Long Black Veil" followed by "A Few More Years," a hauntingly eerie song with O'Brien's vocal backed up only by his fiddle. It's filled with Ancient Tones, and cuts off just like death cuts off life. We go out a bit more jauntily with Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain," though the predictable treatment of a well-known song provides a somewhat middlin' ending to what's been an otherwise strong album.

Nevertheless, Fiddler's Green is another fine addition to the Tim O'Brien canon, filled with great picking and singing from O'Brien and a terrific group of musicians. Highly recommended.

by Chet Williamson
12 August 2006

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