This is a minimalist’s dream of an album. For the most part it is just Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott and a guitar or two. There are guest appearances (my favorite is John Prine singing on his own song “Paradise.”) But for the most part this is just two guys singing and strumming (and occasionally picking) together. This is front porch, late afternoon, music.
The whole album feels really good to listen to and has elements I love from bluegrass (harmony, acoustic instruments, songs about loneliness and God), but also elements that I love from country music (crooning and an easy pace), blues (great blues guitar, mournful lyrics) as well as elements that I love from traditional community harmony sings (spare, hopeful harmony).
I love Tim O’Brien’s voice and harmonies, and this may explain why his lyrics didn’t really bother me until the eighth or ninth time I listened to this (gorgeous) album. But Tim O’Brien writes my two least favorite songs on this album, the preachy and self-congratulatory “Free Again” and, with Gary Nicholson, the whiny and self-congratulatory “You Don’t Own Me” (if you’re really “ready to be truly me”, for example, you wouldn’t have to tell us about it.)
However, O’Brien (with Hunter Davis) also wrote the beautiful, shape-note-hymn-like “The Well.” You can just imagine coming over the crest of a hill, and coming across a harmony-sing in a small church, thankful that you can finally hear the music. Many of these songs feel appropriate for a small, country church: unadorned and prayerful, especially Scott’s “On Life’s Other Side”, and even “Fiddler Jones.”
“Alone and Forsaken”
“It All Comes Down To Love” is one of my favorites: great singing, great harmony, great blues guitar, and what I initially assumed was mandolin (but it’s bouzouki!). “Angel’s Blue Eyes” is another: great singing, great harmony, sweet banjo picking. But my favorite is probably their (perfect) cover of Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken.” It’s perfect: that should be all you need to know.
Full Skies Records