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Reviews: Tim O’Brien, Chicken And Egg; Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore, Saints & Sinners

Mollie O’Brien’s newest solo release comes out today. And lookie what else washed up on the island: her brother’s album from the summer. One together, always together.

Tim O'Brien. Photo by Craig Harris 2010. (Click to visit the artist's website.)

Tim O’Brien
Chicken and Egg
[Howdy Skies HS-CD-1005 (2010)]

From the tradition-rooted hill country sounds of Hot Rize, and the honky-tonk of its offshoot, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, to albums celebrating the songs of Bob Dylan, CD-length explorations of Celtic music, and country-folk duets with his sister, Mollie, Tim O’Brien has spent 3 decades expanding the possibilities of acoustic music. On his 13th solo album, “Chicken & Egg,” the Wheeling, West Virginia-born, and Colorado-based multi-instrumentalist and tenor singer uses music as a frame for deeply personal views. Having lost his mother in 2006 and his father on October 26th, 2009, O’Brien pays tribute to their memory with such tunes as “Mother Mary” (written with Dixie Chick Martie Maguire) and confronts his own views of life and death with “Letter In The Mail” and “Not Afraid O’ Dyin’.” Not all songs are so dark. The opening track, “You Ate The Apple,” is a playful fantasy about a parental God chastising Adam and Eve, and “Gonna Try To Make Her Stay” is a swinging tune about trying to rekindle a relationship. “The Sun Jumped Up” features O’Brien’s musical setting to Woody Guthrie’s words. Accompanying his light-as-air vocals on guitar, octave mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and bouzouki, O’Brien is joined by Stuart Duncan (fiddle, mandolin, cello, banjo), Bryan Sutton (acoustic and electric guitars), Dennis Crouch and Mike Bubb (bass), and John Gardner (drums). Sarah Jarosz, Abigail Washburn (Sparrow Quartet, Uncle Earl), and Chris Stapleton (Steel Drivers) provide harmony.

—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)

Mollie O'Brien and Rich Moore. (Click to visit the artists' website.)

Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore
Saints & Sinners
[Remington Road Records/Virtual Label (2010)]

Mollie O’ Brien and Richard Moore’s latest release, Saints and Sinners, follows up on 2007’s 900 Baseline. Mollie O’Brien is well known for her superb alto, which has all the tonality, timbre, and sustain of a fine musical instrument. Add Moore’s outstanding guitar playing and an all-star cast of musicians to accompany the pair, and the album is a real treat.

On first listen, it wasn’t immediately clear to what her presentation of Richard Thompson’s “The Ghost of You Is Walking” has in common with the David Francey-penned title track, or especially what either might have to do with the politically incorrect (by today’s standards) “Everything I’ve Got” from the 1940’s. Or for that matter what the common links were in Charlie Jordan’s “Keep it Clean,” George Harrison’s “Don’t Bother Me,” Rudy Toombs “I’m shaking,” Tom Waits’s “Dead and Lovely,” and Mollie’s own “Mighty Close to Heaven” (which features the debut of her and Rich’s daughters) that will put tears in a dead man’s eyes.

It’s a diverse list of superb songs from some of the best songwriters around to be sure. But the key is in the title song. The cast of characters are all just that: saints and sinners, and the scene at the bar in Thompson’s tune might well be the setting. Her rendition is rather more pensive and aloof than Thompson’s chilling set up from the bar stool in his own presentation. At first it sounds as if she had missed the point, but further listening reveals that the style matches that of the album as  a whole, which is arranged such that all the songs’ genres might be contemporaneous.

Only Mollie O’Brien, with her fluid ability to be at home each genre, and Rich Moore, who perfectly complements her, could pull off such a superb presentation of such a diverse collection. With additional performances by Tim Obrien, Brad Goode, Glen Taylor, Christian Teele (Etones), and John Magnie, not to mention the surprising use of glockenspiel and oboe and bassoon, this is a landmark recording of Americana music.

—H. Stephen Patton (Baltimore, MD)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved.

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