Published Wed, Oct 19, 2011 11:17 am Dateline
It's hard to pigeonhole Tim O'Brien into any one genre of music. He definitely plays traditional folk music but also writes contemporary songs as well.
He's a bluegrass artist but can also be heard playing electric guitar with Dire Straits' frontman, Mark Knopfler.
The one thing that is identifiable in O'Brien's music is his love and respect for the roots of American music.
Tim O'Brien was raised in Wheeling, W.Va., on classic country music and bluegrass. Those roots can be heard in his seminal bluegrass band Hot Rize and their alter egos, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers (O'Brien just returned from the annual reunion tour of those bands).
He also was influenced by the folk music of the 1960s and paid homage to Bob Dylan on his 1996 release, Red on Blonde. After leaving college, O'Brien moved to Boulder, Colo., and formed a swing band that featured tunes from the early 20th Century.
After Hot Rize disbanded in 1990, O'Brien moved to Nashville to advance his career as a solo artist and as a songwriter. Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, Nickel Creek, Kathy Mattea, the New Grass Revival and the Seldom Scene have all recorded his songs.
In 2005, he released two projects simultaneously: Cornbread Nation and Fiddler's Green. Both featured similar musicians but showcased two sides of the same coin. Cornbread Nation was more bluesy and edgy, with gospel songs and rockabilly tunes while Fiddler's Green was more raw and acoustic with old time murder ballads and Celtic sounds.
The Irish music connection to American music was also explored on his 2001 release Two Journeys and on the Chieftains' Old Plank Road collaborations with Nashville musicians.
O'Brien's most recent recording, The Chicken & Egg, utilizes all of his influences and combines them seamlessly into what could simply be called American music.
"Over the years my music has become a certain thing," he said. "Each time I go into the studio to make a new album, I could make an Irish record, or a bluegrass record, or country...but it seems artificial to sift anything out. I feel like I'd be leaving out something important. In the end I just try to make it round."
The album, his 13th, is mostly acoustic, sparsely-produced affair of mostly original material played by a topnotch band. Master Nashville musicians Stuart Duncan and Bryan Sutton are showcased throughout and of course, O'Brien contributes on mandolin, guitar, bouzouki, fiddle, and banjo.
Bryan Sutton is now part of the annual Hot Rize tour and often tours with O'Brien as a duo. The two will be performing in Marietta, Ohio, at The Adelphia in the Galley Restaurant on Saturday, Oct. 22 with special guests Wheels. Visit www.theadelphia.com for details.