Traveler – Tim O’Brien
Sugar Hill Records 3978
In his post-Hot Rize glow, Tim O'Brien has shown a penchant for unrestrained
folk eclecticism. Bob Dylan was covered for an entire album. Two late 1990s
releases examined his connection to bluegrass history and his own Irish
roots. Interspersed with these projects, O'Brien has wandered from
traditional bluegrass (Bryan Sutton's Bluegrass Guitar) to full blown
rock (Scott Miller's Upside-Downside).
But for the most part, O'Briens whimsies have been self contained in
specific thematic album settings. Rarely has he shown the desire to
synthesize completely, or to seriously meld these various musical concepts
into a singular idea of an album. With Traveler, O'Brien arguably
comes closer to this genre juggled summit than on past releases. The Irish
roots remain a strong component of the album. Then again as expected the
strains of Appalachia underpin the majority of the album. But in being true
to the album's title, a sophisticated, cohesive world tromping vibe
permeates the entire release.
He travels from southern Louisiana ("Kelly Joe's Shoes") to a Civil War
ravaged countryside ("I've Endured"), heads back to Appalachia ("Turn the
Page Again"), then visits Nashville for a brief foray ("Let Love Take You
Back Again"). Even in the rather travelogue genre bouncing, O'Brien allows
most of these idioms to intermix; none of them clearly separate from the
other. Exploring the world's vast interconnections is O'Brien's overriding
ideology and lesson.
In fact, strip away the multifarious instrumentation supplied by the likes
of Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, and a host of other acoustic
music luminaries, and Traveler does little to break away from popular
folk music. The lyrics remain personal, often stories of lifestyles,
livelihoods, and love. Yet O'Brien's steadfast sincerity and Bruce Cockburn
warble somehow make it seem compelling; capturing a back to the earth,
Bohemian ideology with remarkable clarity.