Reviewed by Greg Yost
The 15th solo release from the highly regarded multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer Tim O'Brien is similar to the 1998 double album "Step Inside This House" by Lyle Lovett. While Lovett's unique take on a covers collection highlighted the music of lesser-known songwriters from his home state of Texas that helped influence his career, O'Brien's approach focuses on painting a picture of his native West Virginia by highlighting the music of fellow Mountain State songwriters.
A byproduct of his own work over the past decade with the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 2013, the 10 covers and 2 originals are not necessarily all songs about West Virginia, but the totality of the music and lyrics create a cohesive concept.
Imagery of West Virginia's mountainous geography is evident on tunes like "When The Mist Clears Away" and "Windy Mountain." The latter by fiddle legend Curly Ray Cline is a fond wish for a favorite place and the former, a song penned by Larry Groce who is best known as the host of the popular and nationally-broadcast Mountain Stage radio program, uses mountains and mist as a metaphor for negatives things that become obstacles in life.
Two notable tracks come from songwriters on opposite ends of the artistic spectrum. "Few Old Memories" is a beautiful and simple melody by traditional music icon and Mercer County, West Va. native Hazel Dickens while "Grandma's Hands" is a bluegrass rendition of a soul classic by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and Fork Slab native Bill Withers.
Although mostly comprised of cover tunes, two new O'Brien compositions are included and not coincidentally, they are two of the most personal moments. The title track conveys the story of O'Brien's great grandfather as he first settled in Wheeling after journeying from Baltimore while "Guardian Angel" is O'Brien's own story about the death of an older sister when he was a young boy.
O'Brien has surrounded himself with some stellar players for this self-produced set. Contributions from collaborators like Viktor Krauss (bass), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Scruggs (guitar/electric guitar) and sister Mollie O'Brien (vocals) all help make this a top-notch production.
"Where The River Meets The Road" makes two things evident - West Virginia has a strong musical heritage and the state is a source of pride and inspiration for Tim O'Brien.