Reviewed by Stephen L. Betts
Having distinguished himself as one of the finest bluegrass vocalists of the past two decades in his solo work and as part of the bluegrass band Hot Rize, and their comic alter egos Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, Tim O'Brien's project with Dirk Powell and John Herrimann finds them branching out from the usual bluegrass fare. The disc musically traces O'Brien's Appalachian roots and also gives him a chance to showcase his pristine vocal style and skillful playing on fiddle, mandolin, guitar and other instruments.
"Songs..." is a companion piece to the Civil War novel "Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. The novel tells of American soldiers fighting in the Carolinas, but it's the story's Irish, Scottish and English roots that permeate the music. Familiar tunes such as "Bonaparte's Retreat" and Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" are included alongside original material composed and adeptly played by O'Brien, fiddler Powell and banjoist Herrmann. Songs inspired by the story not only enhance any reader's enjoyment of the book, but also stand on their own as lovely works of art from these three very passionate players.
This excellent album clearly demonstrates why O'Brien with help from Powell and Herrimann has become one of the most important figures in contemporary acoustic music. (Howdy Skies, Box 120283, Nashville, TN 37212)