Tim O’Brien with Naomi Bedford- The Appalachian Ballads
The Mackintosh Church , Sat 2nd February 2019
From Celtic Connections Festival 17 Jan to 3 Feb 2019
By BOB LESLIE
Anyone looking for a masterclass in musicianship couldn’t have done better than to attend this concert.
After a tight, competent opening set, centring on Appalachian ballads, by Naomi Bedford and her band (with local hero Justin Currie guesting on harmonies), the stage was set for the virtuoso talents of Tim O’Brien and his musical associates.
Starting with a bluegrass take on the old Judy Henske classic High Flying Bird, Tim and musical partner Jan Fabricius performed tightly-harmonised versions of Bill Withers’ classic Grandma’s Hands, Larry Groce’s When the Mist Clears Away, and The Drunkard’s Walk by J.D. Hutchison.
It has to be said that Tim’s guitar-picking reminded me of
those lines in that old John Sebastian song Nashville
“Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants on a Tennessee ant hill”
And the worst part is that he makes it look easy!
To make guitar-pickers even more seethingly jealous, Tim and Jan were then joined onstage by Irish guitar maestro John Doyle to perform the Carter Family classic Little Annie.
Where the River Meets the Road – from Tim’s album of that name – saw the full band line-up as Scotland’s John McCusker, on fiddle, and Manchester’s Mike McGoldrick, on flute and whistle, stepped onto the stage.
Next came a preview from Tim’s forthcoming album Tim O’Brien Band – a song called Wind on which Jan Fabricius showed her skills on mandolin as well as her excellent harmonies. This also freed Tim up to pick up his fiddle and duel with John McCusker on a pair of reels, and then to accompany Dirk Powell’s classic mourning song My Love Lies in the Ground.
Turning back to mandolin, Tim played his self-penned La Gringa Renée – a phrygian-style instrumental inspired by “sitting under a coconut palm in Mexico”. This was followed by the similarly-themed Keith in a Palm Tree inspired by Keith Richard’s famous fall while climbing said tree.
We then heard a series of original numbers, starting with Tim’s beautiful song Guardian Angel – based on memories and family stories of a sister who died when he was only two years old – followed by Brother Wind and Look Down that Lonesome Road – the latter inspired by meeting and talking to a retired livestock auctioneer.
For the final song of the night – Bob Dylan’s Lay Down Your Weary Tune – Tim invited opening singer Naomi Bedford onstage to harmonise and sing a verse with the band. As the performers took their bows, the crowd rose to give them a standing ovation for a truly memorable concert.
I was lucky enough to secure an interview with Tim O’Brien and Jan Fabricius a few days before, during which I asked what they did when they were off the road. “We just sit about the house, singing and playing mandolins together!” Well, as the core members of this band, it was obvious that this approach had paid off handsomely as I’ve rarely seen such apparently effortless mutual musical understanding. Long may they continue so, and come back soon!