Tim O’Brien can afford to show some modicum of modesty. After all, when one has gained the reverence and respect he’s obtained over the years, there’s no reason to tout his talent by any other means that simply making music and letting the sounds speak for themselves. He does that exceptionally well to say the very least, and while this new eponymous effort by his Tim O’Brien Band often relies on traditional tunes and some well-chosen covers, it’s an impressive effort to be sure. Of course, when there’s like-minded players such as Mike Bub on bass, Shad Cobb on fiddle, and Bryan Sutton adding occasional guitar, there’s really no reason to say any more.
Nevertheless, with Jan Fabricius singing harmonies, playing mandolin, and adding a lead vocal, and Partrick Sauber playing banjo, mandolin and guitar, the effort is further enhanced overall. Their names may not be as well known, but their presence is well felt.
Of course, O’Brien himself deserves credit for assembling this ensemble and sharing his own strengths on vocals, guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. Indeed, it’s that impressive instrumental arsenal that really sets the standard here. While takes on Woody Guthrie’s Pastures of Plenty and Norman Blake’s homespun Last Train From Poor Valley are exceptionally well done, O’Brien’s own originals ensure a smooth segueway with every other offering. There’s blues in the bluegrass of Diggin’ My Potatoes, but also a cheery aside with Amazing Love, an inspirational co-write with Dan Auerback of the Black Keys. The gypsy-like serenade, La Gringa Renee, and the jaunty medley, Hope Down Reel/Johnny Doherty’s Reel, provide opportunity to spotlight the group’s instrumental prowess as well.
Likewise, the folksy My Love Lies in the Ground and Beyond find O’Brien and company digging at their roots with assurance and authenticity. So too, Fabricius’ lead vocal on The Other Woman, which she co-penned with O’Brien, makes a fine statement about the need to be assertive and confident in today’s challenging world.
Ultimately, Tim O’Brien Band is a comprehensive summation of the strengths and skills that have made its namesake one of the singular champions of the bluegrass, newgrass, and grassicana genres. A devotee of the past as well as one who’s determined to take the music forward to the future, he’s staked out his stance, and it serves him well.