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Tim O'Brien's Musical Journeys Showcased on <i>Traveler</i> - 2003-11-14

Over the past 30 years, singer-songwriter Tim O'Brien has had a rich and varied career. His years with the progressive bluegrass band Hot Rize, along with his subsequent solo career and time spent writing hit songs in Nashville, have made Tim one of the most respected singer-songwriters in acoustic music. Tim's new CD, Traveler, adds to that fine reputation.

Tim O'Brien's Traveler begins with a true story. Kelly Joe's Shoes is about a pair of sneakers that belonged to fellow musician Kelly Joe Phelps.

That opening track sets the theme for the rest of the album by this well-traveled musician. Tim O'Brien was raised in Wheeling, West Virginia. When asked about his early musical influences, his answer was a wide range of styles from pop to bluegrass and just about everything in-between.

"I guess The Beatles. The Beatles and, as I was starting to play the guitar, and I'd heard of Flatt and Scruggs, and I thought they were fantastic," he said. "And then somebody said, 'Have you heard this new record Strictly Instrumental? It's Doc Watson.' I'd been playing finger-pick style on the guitar, and then I heard this guy. I actually saw him on TV … the Berkeley [California] Folk Festival is what it was. He was up there playing away on some tune, and flatpicking. And I'd never heard that before, and I didn't know what that was. But I said, 'That's the way I want to learn to play guitar.' He's the great universal adapter … Doc Watson. He's a great communicator, and he's the guy who showed me a lot of different directions to go with the music. Not just bluegrass, but other things."

Those "other things" include incorporating Celtic, Cajun and blues music into his songs. His vocal style is equally hard to categorize. It's a mixture of the traditional high-lonesome found in bluegrass, jazz and even a bit of the smooth style associated with "old school" soul. And, on Turn The Page Again, Tim O'Brien shows that it's possible to showcase two or more of those styles in the same verse, and have it sound totally honest.

Tim O'Brien's Traveler opens with the singer-songwriter setting out on a journey. The album's upbeat closing track, Less And Less, could be considered the sum of what he's learned along the way. The conclusion? It's best to travel light, both physically and emotionally.