Odd Man In

Tim O'Brien
Sugar Hill

The Detroit News, Saturday, February 15, 1992

Tim O'Brien is a young singer-songwriter-mandolin virtuoso whose mellow, mostly acoustic album gets classified here under folk because he doesn't really fit anywhere else. He's more than a little bit country ("Fell In Love (And Can't Get Out)") and a very little bit rock 'n' roll ("Every Tear Has a Reason Why.") In between, there are excursions into traditional folk ("Handsome Molly") and blues ("Lonely at the Bottom, Too"), a little rhythm and blues ("That's What I Like About You") and a lot of solid balladeering. The essential sound is created by the blend of O'Brien's many sizes and shapes of mandolins, along with Jerry Douglas' sorrowful dobro guitar.

Folk Roots, January/February 1992

Contemporary bluegrass now has an established bunch of superstars, wonderful musicians by any standard. Grisman, Rice, Douglas, Bush and O'Connor spring easily to mind. Some of the newer arrivals are pushing the gates in though, and everyone active in these circles knows that Tim O'Brien's here to not only stay but shine. Even the hotter-than-Hot Rize couldn't contain him, and Tim's subsequent work, solo and with sister Mollie has enjoyed prolonged applause.

This set, recorded with now legendary Sugar Hill finesse, includes fourteen songs, nine are Tim's own brainkids, three are covers of obscurities, and Flora, The Lily Of The West, and Handsome Molly cater for the nod to tradition.

Of course, you do realize this music can't be matchboxed as bluegrass. All kinds of zany trends run through, there's dips into jazz, folk, ethnic etc., allowed to flow together to create magical, distinctive, acoustic music. Tim's virtually matchless mandolin prowess is well highlighted throughout as a dazzling foil for his hearty vocal work; the overall effect's slightly skewed and magnetically attractive.

As Lyle Lovett says on the liner-notes, with reference to the title, "We should all be so odd." By the way, loads of you are known to be addicted to that Jerry Douglas dobro sound - this here album's full of it, as sweet as you can imagine. This set's unassumingly awesome, simply the best of everything for you here.

Country Music People, Country Music Magazine - February 1992

Fell In Love (And I Can't Get Out) / One Way Street / Circles Around You / Handsome Molly / Lonely At The Bottom Too / Like I Used To Do / Lone Tree Standing / Love On Hold / Flora, The Lily Of The West / Hold To A Dream / That's What I Like About You / Every Tear Has A Reason Why / Hungry Eyes / Romance Is A Slow Dance

I have nothing but admiration for Tim O'Brien's musicianship, his distinctive vocal styling and his craftsmanship in composition, but I think that what I admire most is his determination to remain unfettered to "do his own thing." Having enjoyed a sizable hit dueting with Kathy Mattea on "The Battle Hymn Of Love," he signed with RCA but apparently left without a release. In a note to Lyle Lovett, he describes his current music as "weird country, electro-acoustic, folk-boat, walking the line between several genres, acoustic music that rocks a bit, but you understand the words. Not exactly this year's model in Nashberg. Later, he adds, "I go by my own rules and I've made a place for myself that I'm comfortable with…there are probably lots more of us out there that don't fit in than there are that do, and it's nothing to be ashamed of."

You can't get more honest about your music than that, and I would wholeheartedly endorse Lovett's claim that "The only thing odd about Tim O'Brien is that he is a consistently great singer, player, and songwriter."

On "Odd Man In," Tim O'Brien presents us with his own brand of New Country and it is far more honest and straight down the line than much of what emanates form Nashberg these days. Most competently backed by a studio band which includes Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan and Nick Forster (Tim's old mate from the Hot Rize days), O'Brien ensures originality by gifting us with nine self-compositions, varied in tempo, and each wonderfully crafted. Amongst these, my favorite by a long chalk is the brilliant "Like I Used To Do," a poignant country song that knocked me out.

There are a couple of traditional songs in the shape of "Handsome Molly" and "Flora, The Lily Of The West," but although Tim retains the essence of these songs he injects them with a new life, sounding as fresh today as they did when they were first written. There are a couple of lively numbers tailor made to swing to, "Fell In Love" and "That's What I Like About You," and there are the slow, pensive songs like "Romance Is A Slow Dance" and "Lonely At The Bottom" to balance things up