What I Been Listening To...and Tim O'Brien
The last few weeks I have done a LOT of driving. At the Galax Virginia Old Time Fiddlers' Convention earlier this month I hung out with a bunch of folks who pick and sing jazz and western swing music and rediscovered an old love for standard jazz music. So I got myself to a few stores and picked up some fine CDs of folks like Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, and singers of their ilk. Eva Cassidy has long been a favorite of mine but I never bought one of her CDs until recently - it stays in the CD player much of the time these days (I really like "Songbird"). Got some Sinatra but I prefer Nat King Cole somehow. It's okay. It's my truck after all and your mileage may vary.
As much time as I spend at bluegrass festivals you'd think I'd listen to bluegrass most of the time while driving American byways but no! You'll find cajun and zydeco, Celtic and jazz, some blues, maybe a little classical, definitely some classic country....and maybe a little bit of bluegrass now and then. When I'm really tired I find clanging banjos do help to ward off sleep. And how!
One of the great losses (I hope not a permanent one) on the bluegrass trail is that of the Cox Family from Louisiana. If there are angels on earth surely Suzanne and Evelyn Cox are two of them. I have nearly worn out the CD titled, "The Cox Family" listening to it up one road and down another. If you haven't checked them out, do. They have been big-time influences on folks like Alison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent, and that's from the horse's mouth, buddy.
Seems like I've been saying this a lot recently but it is nevertheless true. Tim O'Brien is my overall favorite. Maybe it's partly because I've listened to him so much for 25 years now. Maybe it's because he seems to just like good music, songs he relates to, songs he's written about his own life experiences. Maybe it's because he doesn't seem to adhere to or even recognize those hard and fast musical lines "that's bluegrass" "that's country." No, on a Tim O'Brien album you might find quite a variety of music. And (YMMV) it is all real, real good. Now why is that I ask?
I recently had the chance to sit with Tim and his wonderful wife Kit out on the porch of a log cabin where they were staying while playing at a nearby music festival. I asked Tim about his songwriting and like with so many things one topic lead to another. But what came through in all the talk and anecdotes was this reality: Tim is true to himself. He writes about what he feels. He sings what he likes. He is his own musican. Now for my taste that is as good as it gets. I've never heard him have a bad night singing, haven't heard very many sour notes, have never done any less than really, really enjoy his music. At this festival (a real treat I think) he was playing solo. Like so many of you, I've heard Tim onstage with some of the greatest singers, songwriters and musicians of our time in various configurations but I have to say that nothing has ever suited me nearly as well as hearing just Tim and his fiddle, just Tim and his mandolin, just Tim and his guitar, and always that expressive, easy-on-the-ears voice of his. He looks like the boy next door. Matter of fact he looks very much like he did 25 long years ago. Maybe he's found the fountain of youth. Maybe it's there in your own heart. I don't know. I'm just glad I live in the days of Tim O'Brien and his wonderful music.