Sugar Hill Records
A review for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
By Ed Ciesla
Tim O'Brien's release, ROCK IN MY SHOE, is clean, powerful playing and singing. Music like this should have made many "Best of 1995" lists. It is a stellar recording.
The thirteen cuts cover a goodly range of themes and styles. Each song offers up a vocal or an arrangement or a riff that bears repeated listening. My choices for album standouts:
The first track "Long Distance" begins with a brisk "Uh, One, Two..." It then breaks into a loping stride as accordion, snare drum, high hat and guitar keep pace with Mr. O'Brien's lament about the necessity of long distance telephones. Mollie O'Brien joins with fine harmony and the song is further graced with a dobro solo courtesy of Jerry Douglas.
Track 7 "Climbin' Up a Mountain" is a sweet bluegrass romp. It contains straight string band playing, harmony singing between Tim and Glenn Zankey (of the Bluegrass Patriots) and a wonderful instrumental break. The overdubbed buck dancing adds a nice touch. It exudes *high lonesome.*
"Melancholy Moon (Not)" is the title of Track 9. This is a romping jolt of good-time music. It begins with a swinging, jazz-tinged electric guitar and turns into a tongue-in-cheek look at country chart-toppers from decades past. Half the fun is trying to ID all the lyric and musical allusions that get cited in under four minutes. The playing is superb throughout and Tim O'Brien's delivery has a convincing though affectionate tweak to accepted country-music truisms found in those moon-june-spoon songs. How many can you name?
A paragraph for each song would still not do justice to this album. The final track is "Small Up and Simple Down" which begins like the opener with Tim O'Brien calling out the beat - shades of Lawrence Welk! There is a loose pick-up band approach to this cut. Tim receives plenty of vocal support from a chorus as he urges his listeners to renounce the Mercedes, the 20 room house, the whole fast track and get back to the simple things.
The musicians on this record include: Mark Schatz on bass, Scott Nygaard on guitar, Jerry Douglas on dobro and lap steel; Dirk Powell on accordions, banjo and piano; Steve Amedee, of the Subdudes, on tambourine. Mark Graham is on harmonica, and Washboard Chaz Leary plays, what else? washboard. Harmony vocals are by Mollie O'Brien and duet vocal by Glen Zankey. Jerry Douglas produced the record. It was engineered by Kevin Clock.
If this record was vinyl I would have worn the grooves down from the repeated listenings "Rock In My Shoe" has so far endured. When played through 2 or 3 times in succession I then hit the random feature on the CD player and listen to the songs in a different order! Each time I listened new aspects of every tune were revealed.
You get the idea. It's a little pebble here and there that grows until like a "Rock In [Your] Shoe" it can't be ignored. This is honest, well-performed mountain music. Get a copy and enjoy Tim O'Brien's fine new record.