In his recent VG interview, Tim O’Brien mentioned that his next release would be more of a “songwriter” CD. Instead, his latest, Two Journeys, is an extension of his album, The Crossing, which drank deep from his Irish background for its musical inspiration. Two Journeys also shows the strong influence of Mother Ireland not only in its songs, but personnel as well.
Maura O’Connell, Laoise Kelly, Karan Casey, Paddy Keenan, Kevin Burke, and John Williams are all Irish roots musicians, or musicians with Irish roots who participate on Two Journeys.
To discover what constitutes an Irish musical influence, you have merely to listen to Tim’s rendition of Paul McCartney’s “Norwegian Wood.” Beginning with the Paddy Keenen’s pipes introduction, followed by Tim’s loping mandolin work, the tune is infused with a rich Celtic aroma that settles on you like the glow of a good single-malt whisky. Six of the 14 cuts on Two Journeys are O’Brien originals, while five are his arrangements of traditional material. His treatment of “Demon Lover” and “What Does the Deep Sea Say” are especially successful. Both possess a paradoxical combination of the diametrically opposed influences of tradition and innovation. They are familiar, yet alien, encased in O’Brien’s Celtic arrangements, like vintage wine in brand new “olde style” bottles.
Although it was principally recorded at Nashville’ Groundstar studios, some tracks were done at The Mill in Naas, County Kildare. The overall sonic effect is intimate and warm, like an old wool blanket. No matter how dense the mix, all the instruments can be heard, and they retain their original natural harmonic timbre.
O’Brien has made a science of creating concept albums where the music is still superior to the unifying principle. His Dylan tribute, Red on Blonde, is among the best recordings of Dylan material not done by ol’ Bob himself. Two Journeys is similar in that it is a superlative album of Celtic music produced by a guy who is still principally a bluegrass musician. Perhaps Tim O’Brien really is Irish… Check out howdyskies.com.
This review originally appeared in VG‘s Nov. ’01 issue.