Tim O'Brien is on tour and the Narrow Center for the Art's in Fall River, MA offered a perfect venue for an intimate evening with this multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter. Tim's career has brought him down an amazing diverse path from the lonesome sound of hard core bluegrass, to a pinch of Celtic fiddle tunes, to old Country and cowboy tunes, to pure acoustic Americana folk. He's toured with Hot Rize and Red Knuckles and his own bands, as well as many special project collaborations plus performing duo with his sister Molly. After more then 30 projects, Tim has stepped back, took a deep breath, looked inside and brought it back to himself with a challenging solo project and tour. The Chameleon project showcases a broad spectrum of tunes most of which Tim performs during his show along with a bevy of tunes from past projects.
Tim fashioned the show around 4 instruments, Guitar, Bouzouki, Fiddle, Banjo. Interesting that he abandoned the mandolin for this project and show in favor of his Bouzouki. This Nugget Bouzouki was made special for Tim when he asked Mike Kemnitzer to combine the concepts of a mandola with an arched top guitar to create an octave mandolin/bouzouki, an instrument that Tim treasures. Illustrating his command over this instrument, he played a very difficult Irish Jig on it which normally you would have expected to hear played on a fiddle. The tuning on his banjo was also a little different and producing a deeper and more melodic tone than the twang for which the banjo is known.
Opening the show with Where's Love Come From, a catchy tune posing a timeless question about the nature of love, Tim launched into a eclectic hour and a half show. Tim's quirky sense of humor sparkled with Megna's, a story of a produce vendor. Only Tim O'Brien could write and sing a song about produce and have the audience literally eating out of his hand. Get out There and Dance is a campy tune to which Tim danced and grooved along.
He threw in a few mournful tunes in D Minor which he deemed to be the saddest key in which to play. The classic Wayfaring Stranger fits the saddest key which Tim sang woefully accompanied by a mournful fiddle. Tickling your emotions with contrasting themes, you can't help but giggle when you realize the somber fiddle tune called Phantom Phone Call is about the phenomenon of feeling your cell phone vibrating when no call is coming through. Red Dog in the Morning features a woeful banjo sound. Tim quipped he didn't know what this tune was about other than something to sing about while playing the banjo.
Beyond the Chameleon project and worthy of note, Tim worked in Woody Guthrie's, Buffalo Skinners, a pure ranging cowboy tune. Tim mentioning Rambling Jack Elliot's wonderful rendition of this tune. Tim's version of Dylan's Lay Down you Weary Tune has haunted me for days beyond the performance. It was just one of those tunes that grabs you and doesn't let you go for a while.
With Tim's sense of humor and inspired musicality, this show fits the definition of traditional folk music with themes of love lost and found and with other lyrically contemporary themes set within the traditions of root music. Think about the difficulty of making the lyrics of modern times sound as timeless as traditional Folk music gleaned from the past. Humble and understated, Tim O'Brien pulls it off effortlessly.