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Things I Gave Away... (Sugar Hill)
Mollie started singing duets with her talented younger brother Tim O'Brien and they put out a series of fine albums together. This is her third solo work and she moves farther away from the folk/bluegrass base towards jazz, pop and R&B songs performed with spare acoustic arrangements. The opening track, Percy Mayfield's beautiful "River's Invitation" is a standout, as is the blues "Train Time". Although not a songwriter, Mollie is a fine interpreter with a beautiful soulful voice. John Magnie and Steve Amedee from the long-lost Subdudes play on most of the songs. Respectfully produced by the brilliant lead guitarist Nina Gerber.
Release date: Aug. '00.   Sugar Hill Records.  

The Crossing....(Alula)
What could easily have been a fairly ponderous journey back to one's roots is instead a contemporary blend of musical excellence from Tim O'Brien and some of America and Ireland's finest players.  I say contemporary because  though the music seems very much the result of this journey to great-grandad O'Brien's home place, it is very much the present day O'Brien telling the story.  It has the history of Ireland and the space of America written into the original pieces and the heart and soul of an old time musician playing with his Irish cousins.  Great production ensures that the rich layering of the music and O'Brien's voice hang together nicely.  His fellow players are, as he says, "top names in their fields" and hail about evenly from both sides of the Atlantic.  Yes, It's not bad at all.... for a Cavan man.
Fav picks: Down in the Willow Gardens, Lost Little Children, The Crossing, Wandering, Talkin' Cavan ....and all the rest. Alula Records' site...  Released May, '99, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).

Cornbread Nation... (Sugar Hill)
This is one of two new releases from acoustic music maven Tim O'Brien (the other being Fiddler's Green) and it's his "folk" album. Which means, at times, twangy electric guitar, drum kits and even a saxophone. With only two original tunes, O'Brien shows he's no purist when it comes to recording trad material. He seeks to breathe life into these old gospel, folk and country tunes and by any measure certainly succeeds. Even on songs that you may think have been done one too many times  (House of the Risin' Sun, for instance), Tim O' finds a fresh approach. But this effort works best on the gospel tunes where the grooves are up front and guitarist Kenny Vaughn (currently of Marty Stuart's band) brings on the twang. The O'Brien penned title tune correctly ties in southern music traditions with southern foodways and the amusing "Runnin' Out of Memory" manages to link a Bill Monroe melody with the computer age.

Tim's web site. Buy from amazon.  Released Aug. 2005.  Reviewed by Michael Meehan.

Reincarnation: The Songs of Roger Miller... (Howdy Skies)
When it came to songwriting, the late Country Music Hall of Fame member Roger Miller cast a wide net. Be it a sweet, simple love ditty (“Tall Tall Trees”), his classic tune of a happy drifter (“King of the Road), or a completely off the wall novelty number like “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd”, Miller was a craftsman. Reincarnation: The Songs of Roger Miller is a salute to Miller from the O’Brien clan, that being brother-sister duo Tim and Mollie O’Brien joined by members of their respective families. The sibling duo had always wanted to do a project that could bring their musically-inclined families together and in the songs of Miller, they found common ground. The democratic process is hard at work across the 11 songs comprising this family affair with each of the seven participants taking a lead vocal turn on at least one of the tracks that mix Miller classics with some lesser known, but equally worthy, compositions.
Tim's O'Brien page. Buy from Amazon.  Released May, 2012.  Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

We're Usually A Lot Better Than This... (Full Light)

Rehearse lightly, stir vigorously. That would seem an apt motto for the hyper-experienced duo of Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott. Each of them is a triple threat of songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, and each has a remarkable record of collaborative and solo work. For all the high profile work they've done, "We're Usually Much Better Than This" is a very homespun, stripped-down affair, recorded live at school benefit concerts; it is also the first follow-up to their 2000 duo album "Real Time". The fireworks kick off immediately; it's clear that these two set each other off with an intuitive bond and they aren't about to let fixed ideas get in the way of the fun. Starting with bluegrass gospel number "Climbin' Up A Mountain", nothing is played straight and little is repeated as we hear them follow each other through the changes. They each have such great chops and ideas, half the fun is just listening to them figure out what to do measure by measure, lick by lick. But of course they have great songs, too. Darrell Scott contributes the sadly amusing "Hummingbird" about the destruction of his father's guitar, and the crushing "With A Memory Like Mine", with words by his father about the loss of a son in war. Tim O'Brien's beautiful "Mick Ryan's Lament" is a dying soldier's ironic realization, and great songs are selected from Townes VanZandt, Gordon Lightfoot and Lefty Frizzell We're Usually Better Than This is like a house concert of the highest order. Highly recommended.
Full Light's page for the album. Order from Amazon. Released Oct. '12, reviewed by Brad Price

OLD 97's
Fight Songs....(Elektra)
Well, Old 97's fourth album is definitely their least twangy effort, but it's also their best, even though much of it is pure pop.  Well, roots pop maybe... the point is the songs are first class catchy little ditties that grab a hold of you and don't let go.  The arrangements and production are just a little more sophisticated then their old days.  I say, more power to them.  If they pick up a few Gin Blossoms or Counting Crows fans along the way then that's fine.  They'll be buying old George Jones albums  maybe someday.
Best songs:  Jagged, Lonely Holiday, Indefinitely, Crash On The Barrelhead, Murder (Or Heart Attack), Busted Afternoon, There's, which has bio and tour stuff and is actually the band's site as opposed to the label's (  Released May, '99 and reviewed by Bill Frater.

OLD 97's
Blame It On Gravity... (New West)
It’s still puzzling to me how the Old 97’s ended up in the alt-country category, because when you strip them down to their essence they are just a great rock n’ roll band that never forgets that it all started with folk music. Sure, they can swing easily into a Texas honky-tonk romp with some twangy riffs, and slow it down with a touching ballad, but it’s the catchy, pop-infused rock songs with the clanging guitars and angst-ridden lyrics that stay with you. Blame it on Gravity, their seventh studio album, is reminiscent of the edgier sound of the 1999 Fight Songs CD. The Old 97’s lean heavily on the quirky, stream-of-conscious and occasionally sentimental lyrics and song writing of Rhett Miller, but it’s always a group effort and this one ranks up there with their best work.
Old 97's site. Buy from amazon.  Released May, '08.  Reviewed by Barry Dugan.

Old and in the Gray... (Acoustic Disc)
Every few years Dave Grisman steps away from the “Dawg” music he created, gathers up some old friends, and cuts a bluegrass record. That was the genesis of “Old and in the Way” and “Here Today”, perhaps his best bluegrass outings. This new CD combines players from each of those bands. Pete Rowan and Vassar Clements from the former, and Herb Pedersen from the latter, combine with new comer Byn Bright to make a bluegrass lovers dream come true. This is west coast bluegrass at it’s best: competent, powerful and yet somehow casual feeling. This may not be boundary-breaking bluegrass but it is entertaining and fun (hey, check out the comic caricature cover art!). These are journeyman pickers and singers doing what they do best. The material is varied and interesting; old bluegrass numbers  (On the Old Kentucky Shore), originals, (Rainmaker) and more modern songs ‘grassed up (Honky Tonk Women). And the playing’s as solid as one might expect from these loose veterans. Has Grisman ever done a record that wasn't at least mildly, if not wildly, interesting? Make room on the CD shelf for this one.
Acoustic Disc's siteBuy from amazon.  Released Oct. 2002.  Reviewed by Kevin Russell.

O.C.M.S.... (Nettwerk)
First time I saw this band coincided with my first trip to Nashville and the Station Inn. They were like a pack o' wild puppies on stage, climbing over each other yippin' and hollerin' and making such spirited music, they impressed (and delighted) the hell outa me. I ran into them a couple more times over the next couple of years and loved their wildness but you couldn't take it home in a CD - didn't translate. Their first release on a real "label" has happily nailed it - impressively loose but tight collection of music that makes you believe in the power of mountain music to be heard, loved and played by kids who didn't come from the life. They make it theirs without stylizing so much that they lose focus... Producer David Rawlings (Gillian Welch) helps them deliver a cleanly arranged CD that invites the listener in without knockin' em to the floor.
Buy from amazon. Released Feb. '04, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).

Carry Me Back... (ATO)
Nashville-based Old Crow Medicine Show broke onto the scene in 2004 with a self-titled album that drew from the old timey and bluegrass tradition, but at the same time added a contemporary flare to the proceedings. The highlight was a song called “Wagon Wheel” credited to Bob Dylan which OCMS founding member Ketch Secor heard on some outtakes from the Dylan sessions for soundtrack to the film Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Old Crow Medicine Show took the song and countrified it in a bluegrassy sort of way. It caught on like wildfire and catapulted the band into a major entity on the touring circuit. The band’s next two albums (Big Iron World from 2006 and Tennessee Pusher in 2008) saw them push the envelope of sound exploring a mix of sounds to go with its bluegrass base. Tennessee Pusher, in particular, produced by Don Was was a significant departure from the Americana blend that made the band such a popular entity. On latest release, OCMS returns to its string band roots with an album of songs knee deep in the old timey and bluegrass traditions. Its debut for ATO Records, Carry Me Back is an entirely acoustic affair on which OCMS sounds re-energized on a spirited romp of yesteryear-leaning old time tunes.

Crow Buy from Amazon. Released July, '12, reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

Metal Shed Blues...(Checkered Past)
I think lead vocalist and songwriter Mike Cuykendall took his time with these songs and to give it a fair hearing I had to hang out and really listen. It has a lazy, relaxed feel to it that, along with the rolling arrangements, can easily slip you into another space. Fortunately, the gravelly quality of his voice (Bill insists on calling it Dylan-esque) calls you back from the edge of that space and says "hey, I'm talkin' to you".  For all that his voice is distinctive, the entire band is talented and I thought played generously together.  Wonderful arrangements. Pump organ and lap steel have never sounded so meant for each other and the strings? ...get outta here...
Fav picks: .No Going Back, Slow, Spent, Tiple Blues for Chris. Check out Checkered Past's site, where they have bios and CD ordering. Released March '99, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).

One Tough Town… (Red Parlor)

Olney got his start as a folk singer who writes with stinging wit and brutal honesty. Over the last 3 albums he's morphed into more of a gritty blues man, stinging wit intact. Now he's invoking a vaudeville or ragtime style with plucked ukulele, banjo, clarinet and tuba on many of the songs. It really works on ”Who's The Dummy Now”, which could be a less-than-complementary rant to an ex-manager disguised as a dummy talking to his ventriloquist. More great songs abound, like the title song which is a futuristic story of a comedian who tours from planet to planet. David Olney is a masterful writer and arranger and it all comes together on One Tough Town. He shares a gruff voice with Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, and Greg Brown, but he brings something greater and more unique to the table.

David's site, and MySpace. Order from Amazon. Released June, '07 and reviewed by Bill Frater.

December's Child... (Dualtone)
If you surveyed most fans and asked them when the genre left its' first phase and entered its' second, most would tell you when Uncle Tupelo disintegrated into Wilco and Son Volt. An interesting time in the brief history of the genre to be sure, but to me, the most telling incident was the splitting off of Mark Olson from the Jayhawks. The first blush of the genre was off and nothing has been the same since. There has been great music made to be sure, but when those two bands were altered, things changed, maybe for the better, but things definitely changed. That the split among the Jayhawks mattered more to me was related more to the band being more high profile and the album they were working at the time (Tomorrow The Green Grass) getting way more airplay and notice than Uncle Tupelo ever did. Olson basically got tired of the political games in the music business and grabbed his wife, Victoria Williams (a great artist in her own right), and moved to Joshua Tree, California to put some space between his music and the corporate world that tries to control it. After releasing a couple of mail-order only releases that were wonderfully homespun and low-key, Olson has re-entered the mainstream music world, seemingly re-energized and ready to go. He even reunites with Jayhawk Gary Louris for a co-write on the song "Say You'll Be Mine". To say this is a return to form for Olson would damn his mail-order releases with the Creekdippers but I think this album is a whole hell of a lot better, be it because he's got his spark back or just because he's maturing as a songwriter. Whatever. It's Olson's best yet and if you like the early Jayhawks stuff or singer/songwriter stuff in general, you'll love this Welcome back, Mark.
Dualtone's site.  Buy from amazon  Released July, '02.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Ready For The Flood... (New West)

Olson & Louris were the singers and principle songwriters with The Jayhawks, an influential Alt.Country band from back in the 90's who put out some excellent albums before Olson left the band. They are reunited here and have been touring together recently. They both write great songs but their greatest asset is their magnificent harmony singing. They started out before the Jayhawks learning Louvin Brothers' harmonies and they cite Simon & Garfunkel as a major influence. Together Gary and Mark's voices create a magical blend that is far greater than the sum of their individual voices. They share the leads and effortlessly soar and dip together like birds, intuitivly anticipating each other's actions. The songs here lean a little too heavy on the ballads for me, however they are excellent observations of the heart and the human condition. Welcome back Mark and Gary, may you stay united in spendid harmony.
Mark & Gary's MySpace page. New West Records. Order from Amazon. Released Jan. '09 and reviewed by Bill Frater.

Crazy Time... (self released)
Not being familiar with the music of this band but hearing a lot of great things about them, I was excited when their new CD (their third, actually) arrived in the mail not long ago. Produced by the band with assistance from Gurf Morlix both at the board and on steel and electric guitar (former Face Ian McLagan plays B3 on this, as well), this album manages to blend bluegrass, folk and country in a way that fans of all three genres should find very listenable. To be honest I am not a folk or bluegrass devotee. I care about certain performers, but do not really listen to the genre with any sort of regularity. I am about to start, though. Vocalist Cheryl Striker has an open, clear voice that takes me and drops me at a meadow in Wyoming and the band's blending of electric instruments with acoustic touches of mandolin, accordion, fiddle, dobro and other gee-gaws create, to me, the best of both worlds. Country music that is as free and open as it would be if played with friends on a back porch somewhere. It's good to hear the positive spirit of this act. They have made a new fan and I hope you check this album out and become one as well.
Order the CD from Miles Of Music. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

who's bad now... (Sleeping Trout Music)

In his last outing, O'Neill exorcised his demons, and this time around, he's celebrating a bit. The opening title cut has a country/funk groove that sounds like someone rode a horse through a Motown studio. The tempo keeps on rolling through “Chance”, a dobro and pedal steel enhanced piece of up-tempo country. While the next two cuts sound somewhat like throwbacks to the introspective tenor of his previous release, they're immediately followed by, “Austin”, good old FTB style of country chugging, and a delightful bit of pickin' on a rendition of Lowell George's “Dixie Chicken”. As was the case with from the beginning, O'Neill and his crew again display an unerring sense of what constitutes 'enough', the right amount of production, that lets the music be itself. And, lest anyone fear that the man has lost his touch for a beautiful ballad, “Run to the Sea”, with counterpoint provided by Nancy Apple, is probably the best cut on the disc. The CD ends with an acoustic take on the title cut, which makes for an interesting juxtaposition when repeat play is engaged; nice touch.

The CD's site. Order from CD Baby. Released June, '06, reviewed by Don Grant.

Ain't Leavin' Your Love... (Sleeping Trout Music)
ONeill is a fellow public radio DJ from the Puget Sound area so right off the bat he gets extra points for being a kindred spirit, although he's way more handsome than me in a cowboy hat so he loses some points there. But seriosly, this man went the extra mile to put together a great collection of songs and it shows. Recording parts in Nashville and Austin with some of the best players out there in Lloyd Maines, Tim Crouch, Will Sexton and co-producer and Dobro ace Randy Kohrs.  It wouldn't mean a damn if he didn't also write some fine tunes. "Take Me Away" could be a hit single if it was just heard by the right guy in Nashville. He takes on Townes Van Zandt on the title cut and reworks into a smoking groove with the help of Hayes Carll and Regina and Ann McCrary. "Palo Pinto County" closes the album with some sweet poetry "Bury me down at the bend in the river, a place where the water slows, where we fell in love and we raised a few kids, and watched our family grow."  Pretty nice thoughts and an admirable release.
Michael's WhosBadNow site. Order from CD Baby. Released Jan. '10, reviewed by Bill Frater

one left
songs from the wound... (self released)

It's unclear whether one left is a person with a backing band, or whether it is the band, but that's a minor detail. What songs from the wound is, is a CD of Americana from the pen of Rick Rowland, (he'd be the person), performed by him and Sven Abow, Eric Leifert, and Riley McMahon, (that would be the band). Take the style of, say, a John Prine, or the late Townes van Zandt, and hook it up with a musical backing circa the era of Hank Williams, and you've got this one dialed in. Take rock solid rhythm, embellish it with McMahon's strings, add some guest piano and fiddle icing to complement the flavour of Rowland's writing, the main ingredient, and pop it into the changer for a tad over 46 minutes. Presto! A baker's dozen,(13), slices of primo Americana.

Their web site. Order from CD Baby. Released Oct. '05, reviewed by Don Grant.

Gravy... (Rambler)
Hmmm, get this: a guy with a first name that sure sounds Welsh, living in Nashville and performing americana/funk inflected R&B? Yeah, go figure. Semantics aside, Gravy is a pretty nice bit of work, with the opening title cut setting the overall style and pace. Owen was born in New York and grew up in Ohio, and, if the old memory cells haven’t totally tipped over yet, I believe that Ohio is within radio range of the Motor City, which would account for a large part of his approach. The obverse, Nashville side of his musical coin is exemplified by “Mississippi Moonrise”, driven by Will Kimbrough’s guitar, or “One of These Lonely Days”, a lost love lament. Anyone that was around in the heyday of radio station CKLW will have no problem identifying with Gwil Owen.
Gwil's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Apr. '08, reviewed by Don Grant.

The Turlock 2... (Ethic Recordings)
How could anyone not like a CD that has songs about nail-gunning yourself to a fencepost, a fistfight at a train crossing, and missing the last chance to tell your ex-wife off for good? This is a well-done, introspective CD full of songs that grab tiny little pieces of life, creating great songs out of them in the way that Arlo Guthrie did. Steve Owen manages to touch on references ranging from Dan Fogelburg to Jimmie Rogers to Harry Chapin in original songs, and covers Paul Westerberg's song about the Minneapolis Habitrail, "Skyway." The arrangements are simple and sparse, most of the songs having just three instruments. His songs manage to remain sincere and authentic, no matter whether the song is about heartbreak, stressed out drivers, or getting right with God. The production on this CD is really nice, giving it that impression that you're out on the front porch with them, drinking a little, singing a little, and enjoying it all a whole bunch. The musicianship is really nice, with excellent dobro and mandolin work as well as tight harmonies. This is a great CD and one you'll listen to until you're singing right along.

Steve's site. Buy from amazon. Released Feb. '04, reviewed by Clint Weathers.

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