Howdy Skies Records

Over the years, Tim O’Brien’s contributions to both bluegrass music and the bluegrass music community have been outstanding. In his early sixties, he’s still too young to qualify as an elder statesman, but he’s sure working on it. This aptly-titled 13-track album is his first with his current backing lineup (though I imagine he’s crossed paths and collaborated with all these folks at one time or another). The current line-up includes Mike Bub on bass, Shad Cobb on fiddle and harmony vocals, Jan Fabricius on mandolin and lead and harmony vocals, and Patrick Sauber on banjo, guitar, mandolin, and harmony vocals. Guitarist Bryan Sutton plays on two tracks.

As a unit, the band possesses a relaxed confidence that lends itself well to this austere and dramatically retro-sounding song collection that is exquisite in its earthiness and old-time soulfulness. As a bandleader, singer, songwriter, and song interpreter, O’Brien once again takes his place at the head of the class.

The songs herein include tales of hardscrabble despair and poverty and rustic laments of trying times and broken and displaced lives. The eerie, often melancholy tone is enforced with powerful renditions of Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures Of Plenty,” Norman Blake’s “Last Train From Poor Valley,” J.D. Hutchison’s “Drunkard’s Walk,” Hal Cannon’s mysterious “Wind,” and Dirk Powell’s morose “My Love Lies In The Ground.”

O’Brien’s originals, including “The Other Woman” (co-written with Jan Fabricius), “Beyond” (co-written with Shawn Camp), “Amazing Love” (co-written with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys), and a solo composition called “Crooked Road” ring with similar fervency and authenticity.

If space allowed, I could pile on more accolades and encomiums, but suffice it to say, this music grabs you at the get-go and strengthens its hold with every listen. (Howdy Skies Records, P.O. Box 41684, Nashville, TN 37204, www.timobrien.net.)BA

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