Tim O’Brien Live At The Caravan Music Club
11 January 2017
Originally published on AddictedToNoise.com.au
By Rob Dickens (words) and Jim Jacob (images)
Troubadour Tim O’Brien has just about ticked every box on the list of country/bluegrass/folk music achievements.
Originally inspired by the late legendary Doc Watson, this native of Wheeling, West Virginia (now a long-time resident of Nashville) has released almost twenty solo albums since his debut in 1984. Add two duet releases with the acclaimed Darrell Scott, a member (the first incarnation) of bluegrass ‘supergroup’ The Earls of Leicester and leader and co-founder of the contemporary bluegrass outfit Hot Rize (and its wacky alter ego Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers).
A producer for many artists, collaborator with performers as diverse as Joan Baez and Bill Frisell, he has also been a contributor to movie soundtracks including O Brother Where Art Thou? Not to forget O’Brien’s two Grammys, IBMA awards and his induction into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.
I have seen him perform many times, in a number of guises, the last being a set at last year’s Americana Music Festival. Ironically I have not witnessed a (largely) solo performance such as this.
The show started off promptly, with no support act, which caused a bit of a scurry among some punters to get to their seats (only standing room at the back was available). The lively opener ‘Workin” – (“Anyone Working Is a Friend of Mine!”) got proceedings off to a fine start.
There were many selections from his most recent album Pompadour – the title track is a light-hearted, really-bad-hair-day lament and the honky tonk ‘Whatever Happened To Me’ was well-crafted. ‘Go Down To The Water’ was a highlight (based on Woody Guthrie lyrics with music added by Billy Bragg), it draws on poignant notes from Guthrie to his family while he was in merchant marine service during World War II. There were the interestingly-named ‘Ditty Boy Twang’ and the country waltz ‘I’m A Mess For You’. I enjoyed his new co-write with Sarah Jarosz (‘The Water Is Wise’), the reflective house-selling take of ‘I Gotta Move’ and ‘Tulips On The Table’.
We were also treated to Hot Rize songs – ‘You Were On My Mind This Morning’ and ‘Nellie Kane’, as well as nice renditions of Bob Dylan‘s ‘Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)’ and John Hartford‘s ‘Gentle On My Mind’. If ever there was a tune that proves there is not much difference between gospel, blues and folk, it is the traditional ‘I’m Working On A Building’ (which fuses all genres one strong, rousing statement). ‘Drunkard’s Hiccups (Jack of Diamonds)’ was written by O’Brien, Dirk Powell and John Hermann, the loose-limbed and vague perspective of his aging father was on show in ‘I’m Not Afraid of Dyin”, plus we were treated by ‘Look Down That Lonesome Road’ and some fiddle jigs.
During the evening he was joined onstage by his partner Jan Fabricius for backing vocals. O’Brien played mostly acoustic guitar, a little fiddle and some mandolin. He is a master multi-instrumentalist with the mandolin his renowned device in a band setting. But he can turn his hand at anything and his playing with Scott is so sparkling, it would keep your street lights on for a week. On the Pompadour album alone, as well as the three aforementioned instruments, he plays electric guitar and banjo.
Two hours with a short break, he was in great form vocally, precise with great modulation. It was a thoroughly embraceable evening in the presence of a genuine bluegrass and folk artisan who commands enormous respect.
O’Brien has already played the Woodford and Cygnet festivals and has a couple of dates to go in this Australian tour.
Hats off to the Caravan Music Club for luring him to Melbourne and being able to fill out the place with people au fait with his work.