Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien
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"I'm a traveler; that's what I do," says Tim O'Brien. "Being a traveling musician is something you can honor, and that's what I hope to do with this album." The new album is Traveler, O'Brien's first singer-songwriter album since his much-revered When No One's Around was released in 1997. Over the last 30 years, Tim O'Brien has become one of the most respected and beloved singers and musicians in the ever-growing Americana explosion. Nominated for three Grammys and the winner of the 1993 International Bluegrass Music Association Male Vocalist of the Year, he is well known for his pitch-perfect voice and amazing talent with multiple instruments. Throughout his career he has played everything from swing to traditional, bluegrass to country. His reputation as a perfect representative of this fusion was cemented when he was recently asked to serve as president for the IBMA, an organization that believes in honoring "all the roots and branches," according to O'Brien. His songs have been covered by such artists as the Dixie Chicks, Garth Brooks, Kathy Mattea, and Nickel Creek and he's produced several other artists, including the Yonder Mountain String Band and Balfa Toujours. His travels began in his hometown of Wheeling, West Virginia. By the age of 12 he had already been enthralled by the Beatles but then he began to see folk musicians and was amazed by the accessibility of their music. As a teenager he saw Doc Watson on television, bought a Flatt and Scruggs instrumental album and realized this music was "the real deal." He also had the opportunity to witness some of the best acts of the time at the famous WWVA radio jamboree that played in Wheeling. Most of all, O'Brien thinks his beginnings as a musician started long before he was born. "Music runs in people's bloodlines," he says. O'Brien went off to college in Maine as a literature major but was surprised to find that he was unable to get into studying such texts as Beowulf. He realized that his true love was music so he quit college and journeyed west, eventually settling for a while in Colorado. It was on his journey, at a stop in Chicago at the age of 19 -- when he met Steve Goodman (most famous for writing "City of New Orleans"), which led to O'Brien's first true validation as a musician. "Here was a guy who was successful who told me I was good. It gave me the confidence to pursue music and for the first time I accepted 'this is what I do.'" In 1978 O'Brien met the men with whom he would eventually form Hot Rize. The group went onto record six albums together and become one of the most respected bluegrass groups of the last 20 years, winning the first IBMA Entertainer of the Year award in 1990. They disbanded shortly thereafter but have reunited often, most recently in '96 to record a live album, So Long a Journey, which was released in 2002. Over the years O'Brien has recorded what many listeners have come to think of as classics, among them Rock in My Shoe (1995), which O'Brien considers one of his personal best, When No One's Around (1997), and the four "concept" albums that precede his latest: 1996's Red on Blonde was a collection of O'Brien covering Bob Dylan; 1998's Songs from the Mountain found O'Brien, Dirk Powell and John Herrmann paying tribute to traditional music and Charles Frazier's novel, Cold Mountain; in 1999 O'Brien explored his Celtic roots on The Crossing; and in 2001 O'Brien went back to his Irish heritage again on Two Journeys. In 2000 he and longtime friend Darrel Scott joined forces to record Real Time in Scott's living room. He has also recorded three highly regarded albums with his sister, Mollie O'Brien. O'Brien is glad to be back in the singer-songwriter mode with Traveler. "These are a bunch of songs that wouldn't leave me alone, all songs that I love to sing," he says. "I had all these songs I hadn't recorded but had been singing for awhile and I saw this pattern of traveling in there, so I thought I'd put them all in one bag." O'Brien thinks that Traveler may be his most autobiographical record to date. "You have to accept yourself through your art. If I reveal stuff about my own life and the audience is able to relate it to their own lives, then I've done my job." He says this album is more personal than any he's ever done before. "I'm getting better at telling what I know." Traveler is as much about the spiritual and emotional trips we take through our lives as it is about literal journeys. All the songs are original compositions except for "I've Endured," written by Ola Belle Reed and David Arthur Reed, which opens with a beautiful banjo intro by Dirk Powell. O'Brien was compelled to include this song because he wanted to pay tribute to Ola Belle Reed, whose music and activism he had admired for a long while. "She was a great advocate for poor people, having been one herself," he says. "What she did as an artist and as an activist to endure means a lot to me." While "I've Endured" is about the journey of an entire life, all the songs are about traveling in some fashion. Accordion-driven "Kelly Joe's Shoes" opens the album on an upbeat, light note and tells the story of a pair of shoes that were given to O'Brien by a friend and how those shoes became his traveling companions. "Turn the Page Again" was written with Lucas Reynolds, whom O'Brien calls "one of the few people I know I want to write with a lot more." The lyrically perfect song is about accepting a new stage in life. "Let Love Take You Back Again" showcases O'Brien's vocal skills and explores the passage of a relationship while "Restless Spirit Wandering" continues O'Brien's fascination with history in the form of a ghost story. "The soul of a place includes its history, and the physical places where that history took place," he says. "I've been trying to be more conscious of where I fit in the big context." The song is based on tales of his own house, which some say is haunted by a teenaged Confederate soldier. "Another Day" finds O'Brien singing about working hard and playing hard. Work is something that O'Brien says he is "fascinated by." He was raised to accept that life involved a lot of work and confesses that he works harder than he should. "On the Outside Looking In" is a heart-wrenching song about avoiding old patterns in your life and finding the ability to transform and transcend. Another song about patterns is "Family History," a groove-based song that is also about the ability to transcend those things that seem unavoidable. "We all have black sheep in our families," he says, "and I think most people have similar perceptions of their family backgrounds that I do in this song." A zydeco beat drives "Forty Nine Keep On Talkin'" based on an actual trip "of unplanned adventure" O'Brien took with a friend, traveling through the Mississippi Delta. The vivid imagery of the song came from O'Brien's notes he took on a steno pad during the journey. O'Brien says he was glad to "rock out" on "Fell Into Her Deep Blue Eyes," which O'Brien calls a true story of himself and his wife. "Before we leave for a party she'll ask 'Is that what you're wearing' and as we drive there, she'll ask, 'Why are we going this way?,'" he says. "These are just a couple of the countless reasons I love her so much." In the weeks just after September 11, 2001, O'Brien was staying in Tuscany when he heard Allesandro Massa playing a beautiful melody on his keyboard beneath O'Brien's apartment. As O'Brien listened to the melody, the lyrics to the haunting "Travelers" fell onto the page. "This song is about those incredibly sweet moments where you realize you should remember it, because those moments are fleeting." O'Brien says it was easy to realize this in those strangely quiet weeks after the attacks. "It was an introspective time," he says, "and we took each day and each new place as a blessing." O'Brien closes the album with "Less and Less," a song about simplifying life. "I try to travel around with less and less," he sings. "I tried them all and the simple way is the way that's best." Joining O'Brien on the album are such pickers and singers as Dirk Powell, whom O'Brien calls "a soulmate." Kenny Malone is "incredibly intuitive," O'Brien says. "Both he and Dirk let the music come through them. Whatever they play has a root in the earth." John Doyle is "a whole rhythm section unto himself," O'Brien says, "and a great traveling companion." O'Brien is excited by Casey Driessen's fiddle-playing because "he's always looking for something new." Other players on the record include Jerry Douglas, Darrell Scott, Jonell Mosser, Edgar Meyer, Ray Bonneville, Dennis Crouch and Jon Randall Stewart. A traveler at heart, O'Brien has spent a lot of time on the road over the last 30 years and keeps telling himself he's going to slow down, but never does. He has lived in Nashville for the past seven years with his wife Kit, to whom he gives much credit for her support. Their two sons (13 and 21) are both musically inclined and O'Brien calls them "his teachers." No matter if he slows down or not, he always finds his way back to Nashville at least once a week, if possible. "Home is the place you come back to," he says. "I love to travel but the best part is always coming home."
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03/27/2008 - Tim O'Brien made his latest album in the company of instruments - Read More
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Average Rating : 5              Total Reviews: 3

Tim O'Brien  11/07/2005            
Love Tim's music.
Tim O'Brien  07/14/2005            
Tim O'Brien's Traveler is AWESOME!!! REally. If you love that high raw mountain folk then you will love this. YOu feel like you go traveling with Tim. Excellent.
Tim O'Brien  01/30/2002            
I heard "Tim Ryan's Lament" on radio last night and knew I had to have this album.
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