Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tim O'Brien -- Chicken & Egg

Chicken & Egg
Howdy Skies Records

With the addition of Chicken & Egg, there are now a dozen Tim O’Brien albums sitting on my shelves – and that’s not including recordings he made as part of the stellar bluegrass band Hot Rize. Tim sings like a bird, plays just about any stringed instrument and any roots-oriented style with authority, is an excellent songwriter (who often writes with a fine sense of humour) and shows consistently good taste in the traditional songs he performs and in the songs from other songwriters that he chooses (his Red on Blonde is one of the best-ever albums of Bob Dylan covers).

Chicken & Egg, I think, is one of Tim’s finest. Working with some great sidemen – Stuart Duncan on fiddle and mandolin, Bryan Sutton on guitar, bassists Mike Bub and Dennis Crouch, drummer John Gardner, Ray Bonneville on harmonica, harmony singers Darrell Scott and Abigail Washburn, to name just some – Tim recorded the album off-the-floor, giving it an organic and spontaneous live feeling.

Some of my favourite tracks include “You Ate the Apple,” sung from the perspective of God giving a dressing-down to Adam and Eve which includes an order to dress-up; “The Sun Jumped Up,” a set of previously-unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics from the archives that are given a bouncy melody and arrangement by Tim that’s highly reminiscent of the traditional “Crawdad Hole”; “All I Want,” a bluesy bluegrass number about getting back home to the one he loves; “Suzanna,” written by Hall Cannon, a fiddle and banjo tune that seems to be from the perspective of a street person who may or may not know what he’s going on about; and “Workin,” a rockabilly tune that weds Guthrie-esque lyrics with a Sun-era Johnny Cash arrangement.

This is one of those albums that I know I’ll be playing a lot over a long period of time.

--Mike Regenstreif

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