New album Tim O’Brien
New Album ‘He Walked On’
Out 25 June, 2021
“The project is about what you need to do to survive in America”
So says Tim O’Brien about his latest album He Walked On (June 25, Howdy Skies).
Through its eight new originals and five covers, He Walked On is reportedly expansive portrayal of the nation from its beginnings to the present day through a series of musical snapshots, each training its lens from a different angle: humor, humanity, solidarity, grace.
Produced by O’Brien, the album was recorded between October 2020 and January 2021 in Nashville with the stellar core band of Mike Bub (bass), Pete Abbott (drums), and the consummate O’Brien on everything else – vocals, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, mandola and mandocello.
Hear the first single, “I Breathe In” (written by O’Brien).
The album opener, “When You Pray (Move Your Feet)” takes its title from the African proverb that was a favourite of the late Civil Rights hero Congressman John Lewis. “Can You See Me, Sister?” explores, through an imagined encounter between two of Thomas Jefferson’s children with the enslaved woman Sally Hemings. With “We’re In The Same Boat, Brother,” written by “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime” lyricist Yip Harburg, O’Brien reaches back nearly eighty years for a call to solidarity. The disc image for He Walked On is an American nickel, the slogan E Pluribus Unum – “out of many, one”.
“You talk about the music, where would we be in America if we didn’t have this mix of people from Africa and Europe and Native Americans,” says Tim. “We’re family, but we’re estranged, and we’ve never learned to be family in so many ways. And it’s crazy, and we’re still suffering from that. If you read James Baldwin – America’s insane. And until we figure out how to actually deal with reality here, we’re just going to stay insane.”
Other highlights include the Latin-tinged “El Comedor,” co-written with O’Brien’s fiancée Jan Fabricius, reflects on time the couple spent last year at the Mexican border near Tucson, visiting with a grassroots humanitarian group that offered water and food to hopeful immigrants waiting for asylum. The stark, solemn banjo cut “Five Miles In and One Mile Down,” a tune by the Texas songsmith Dale Keys, indicts the neglect and greed that led to the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in 2010, in O’Brien’s home state of Virginia, where 29 miners died. His cover of “That’s How Every Empire Falls,” written by R.B. Morris and more famously recorded by John Prine, is a loving tribute to the latter, O’Brien’s friend who died of COVID – and also, with its theme of responsibility to our fellow man. “When you sing something, it kind of sneaks in, in that music is a powerful medium,” O’Brien says. “It’s a language that’s mysterious on its own – it tugs on the emotions. It grabs people’s attention in a certain way and prepares them to hear things, and music kind of draws people together.”
About Tim O’Brien
Born in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1954, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter (and West Virginia Music Hall of Famer) absorbed a broad range of American music growing up, from country and rockabilly icons like Jerry Reed and Jerry Lee Lewis backed by local ringers at the famous Grand Ole Opry-style Wheeling Radio Jamboree to Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Dave Brubeck at summer concerts in the part.
His parents had season tickets to the Wheeling Symphony and brought along the young O’Brien and his sister Mollie, who would become his first bandmate; they also saw Ray Charles and the Beatles when they came through town. O’Brien took it all in, but something clicked when he first caught Doc Watson on TV as a teenager: that versatility, and the distillation of so much into the framework of traditional sounds, would be one of his biggest inspirations.
O’Brien found a simpatico musical community in Boulder, Colorado, where he moved in 1974 and became a leading figure in the world of contemporary or progressive bluegrass – most notably in the quartet Hot Rize, which toured nationally over its 40-year tenure and earned a Grammy nomination for its 1989 album “Take it Home.” In the mid-’90s, O’Brien decamped to Nashville, where he became a first-call mandolin, guitar, fiddle and banjo player on Music City sessions, and collaborated with artists like Steve Earle, Sturgill Simpson and Dan Auerbach; Kathy Mattea, Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks cut his compositions, and in 2015 he won a Grammy as a member of the bluegrass supergroup the Earls of Leicester. In 2005, O’Brien won a Grammy for his album, Fiddler’s Green.
READ OUR LIVE REVIEW OF TIM O’BRIEN
New album Tim O’Brien