april 2008

Bluegrass Chamber Music


Tim O'Brien
Proper American

Employing only his earthy tenor and collection of vintage and contemporary guitars, bazoukis, mandolins and fiddles in service to 16 new original songs, Tim O'Brien, unlike the protectively colored reptile of his album title, is not trying to hide from anyone, or to hide anything. At once boldly intimate and universal in its explication of the human experience, Chameleon is, not incidentally, a heck of a lot of fun. "Phantom Phone Call" is hardly an uplifting tale-being concerned as it is with the narrator's fruitless wait for his lover's return, which evolves into a cautionary tale about how "the mobile phone is a threat to the human race"-but O'Brien's exuberant fiddle support is abundant in life-affirming energy. Musing about the transient nature of romantic love in "Where's Love Come From," the artist presents his philosophical musings against a backdrop of frisky, fingerpicked guitar, which serves as a surprising setup for the deeper answer he seeks, when his mother's death teaches the enduring lesson that "a mother's love lives on and on/it's like some never ending song." Of five co-writes, three of the best find O'Brien teaming with the estimable David Olney and Glen Hadley. The most compelling of their joint efforts is "The Garden," a heartbreaking account of a fellow whose long-unspoken love for a particular woman sears him when she reveals the demise of her love affair with another man, in an atmosphere made ever more ominous by the steely, unsparing ring of a hard-picked bazouki. "This World Was Made For Everyone" offers some wry political commentary about the state of the union wrapped up in a folk-flavored toe-tapper as good natured as it is cuttingly insightful. And so goes Chameleon, changing and fascinating at every turn, a wondrous thing to experience.—David McGee


klein2:10 TRAIN
Jimmy Gaudreau & Moondi Klein

A couple of redoubtable bluegrass veterans, Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein, late of the acclaimed Chesapeake and boasting resumes that include tenures with the Seldom Scene (Klein) and John Starling & Carolina Star (Gaudreau), have taken a warm friendship on and off the stage to a whole new level with this, their first recorded duo effort. Featuring only Klein’s warm lead vocals and lively acoustic guitar support and Gaudreau’s harmony vocals and inventive mandolin picking, 2:10 Train is intimate and engaging bluegrass chamber music of the highest order, recorded without frills so that it sounds like the duo is right there in the room with the listener. For material Klein and Gaudreau plumb the traditional canon for, among others, a jubilant investigation of the “Arkansas Traveler/Soldier’s Joy” medley, a spirited mandolin-guitar dialogue on Jim & Jesse’s exquisite “Dixie Hoedown,” and a moody, minor-key rendering of “Shady Grove” that closes the album on a haunting note; but more telling is the journey into the songbooks that most directly influenced their development. Tim and Mollie O’Brien’s 1988 long player, Take Me Back, is the source for a tender, heartfelt reading of the ancient, evocative chestnut, “Sweet Sunny South,” and Tony Rice’s enduring 1983 long player, Church Street Blues, provides the easygoing, bluesy arrangement of Jimmie Rodgers’s “Any Old Time” and also happens to contain a version of Tom Paxton’s “Last Thing On My Mind,” which Gaudreau and Klein explore in a frisky arrangement that gives both pickers sparkling showcase turns as soloists and spotlights their smooth, affecting harmonies on the memorable choruses. There are also terrific, soulful tunes by Harvey Reid (the beautiful, album opening “Dreamer or Believer”) and Harley Allen (the eerie, longing “High Sierra”), as well as a country blues rendering of “Evening,” for which Mitchell “Stardust” Parish provided lyrics. We could use more of this.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024