Two Journeys – Tim O’Brien
Sugar Hill Records 3954
Tim O'Brien is a veteran of the bluegrass scene with a firm grasp of
stringed instruments (primarily guitar, mandolin and fiddle). He's also
been on a roll since the mid-1990s, releasing one impressive disc after
another. Two Journeys is not only a celebration of Irish jigs, reels
folk tunes, but a reminder of the influence such music had on American roots
music. O'Brien has come up with a stellar batch of tunes and an impressive
group of musicians to help drive the point home. Guitarist Darrell Scott,
banjo player Dirk Powell, fiddler Kevin Burke, accordionist John Williams
and vocalist Karan Casey are just some of the contributors to the project.
It speaks volumes that O'Brien so deftly commands a diverse group of players
through material ranging from centuries-old jigs, Civil War-era laments,
Bill Monroe bluegrass, to The Beatles. Given the idea and caliber of talent
behind the disc, it's surprising that it doesn't devolve into nothing more
than a picking session. Instead, the emphasis is on the songs and there's a
bevy of strong ones.
O'Brien's opening "Turning Around" sets the tone for
the rest of the disc. It's a mid-paced folk song that he dedicates to John
Hartford. It's both beautiful in its simplicity and strong in its
stringwork. The disc is capped by an appropriately spare rendering of the
Beatles' "Norwegian Wood."
Casey, who came to fame as a member of the Irish
band Solas, is brilliant duet partner on "What Did the Deep Sea Say?" (made
popular by Monroe) and "Demon Lover," which can be traced back to at least
1657. Burke is indispensable on the traditional instrumental jigs and reels.
The Celtic and Cajun communities are even tied together on the title track.
The only misfire on "Two Journeys" is "Me and Dirk's Trip to Ireland".
Although an enthusiastic rave-up recalling an undoubtedly wonderful
vacation, the song is out of place more than anything. It's also an easily
overlooked complaint considering the strengths of the remaining 13 cuts.