Concert Review - Tim O'Brien 
The Linda, Albany, NY  10/31/08 
By Glenn Weiser
November 6, 2008

American Classics
Tim O’Brien
The Linda, Oct. 31

The chorus of old-time fiddle chestnut “Cotton-Eyed Joe” runs, “Where did you come from/Where did you go/Where did you come from/Cotton Eyed Joe.” But when Grammy-winning bluegrass singer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Tim O’Brien, who performed last Friday at a full WAMC Performing Arts Studio, sang “World of Trouble,” his self-penned song about the politically manufactured climate of fear in America, he quoted the line and drew laughter with the hilarious twist of substituting Osama Bin Laden for Cotton-Eyed Joe. Sure, those who fastidiously preserve folk-music traditions are to be respected, but performers like O’Brien who can update them, and with consummate musicianship to boot, must be cheered on.
      It being Halloween, O’Brien emerged from the stage door looking simply divine in a woman’s red-haired, pageboy-cut wig and carrying an acoustic guitar. Already onstage were a five-string banjo, a fiddle, and an archtop bouzouki, all of which he would play flawlessly.

The 54-year-old Nashville native and Hot Rize alumnus opened with Roger Miller’s snappy country classic “Kansas City Star,” a ditty about a TV cowboy who doesn’t want to leave his local market for the better gig he has on offer. O’Brien’s resonant tenor vocals were in top form, and for his solo break he deftly flatpicked a lead line in the bass interspersed with treble chords reminiscent of the Carter Scratch technique. From there he played a traditional Irish song of seafaring from his Hot Rize days, “Colleen Malone,” his clear voice hitting the throat-busting high notes with ease.

To mark the holiday, a pair of ghost songs followed: “Restless Spirit Wandering” was about the ghost of a fallen young Confederate soldier whom O’Brien claims haunts his former Nashville home. The audience was then invited to join in on a slow, elegiac rendition of Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil.”

O’Brien later played fiddle on a propulsive medley of Southern Appalachian reels—“Sandy River Belle,” “The Kitchen Girls,” and “My Love Is in America”—and expertly frailed the banjo on, among other things, a version of Lonnie Johnson’s blues tune “Little Rocking Chair.”

It’s worth noting that several of the area’s best acoustic pickers turned out for the show. If Tim O’Brien is a performer who can wow the connoisseurs, the rank-and-file listeners must have been overwhelmed. I was left a critic with nothing to criticize, which was fine with me.

—Glenn Weiser

See the article on the Metroland website 
Index of Metroland Articles by Glenn Weiser    ©2008 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.  


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