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Tim O’Brien
Red on Blonde ,  Sugar Hill CD 3853

Dylan on bluegrass

The concept behind the title: red headed Irishman sings Bob Dylan. I know, it tells you nothing, but that’s the way they packaged this plasticware. The more relevant concept is: Dylan interpreted through bluegrass-tinted eyes. There’s quite a mix of folk and bluegrass-oriented approaches here nicely sampling from throughout Dylan’s lengthy career, from the very effective straightforward bluegrass of "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)," to the tragic acoustic slide on "Farewell Angelina." "Tombstone Blues" becomes a breakdown, which actually helps make sense out the whole rambling mess. Two oddballs are standouts: "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Man Gave Names to All the Animals." The first uses "ham bone," or body percussion, and becomes what the fine liner notes refer to as a "hillbilly rap." The effect is pretty wild, and perhaps the only way you can present lyrics like the famous "pump don’t work cause the vandals took the handles" in the mid ’90s. The latter tune I was unfamiliar with, but is a hilarious piece about Genesis, that works great (as the liner notes suggest) as a children’s naming song. Of course, the problem with doing Dylan are the inevitable comparisons, and not just to the originals. "Maggie’s Farm" is wonderful on its own, an uptempo ditty with fiddle reels and a curiously undermixed banjo, but it just doesn’t stand up to the devastating Specials version, reinterpreted as an attack on Thatcherite Britain. Likewise, the simple, plaintive vocals in "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" can’t compare to the Byrds’ wonderful harmonies. The only way to go with this material is the more adventurous approach, which is where all the highlights are. The rest is on the light side, but still very enjoyable.–  Bill Kuhn


Tim O’Brien (vocals, mandolin, fiddle, bouzouki) and the O’Boys: Scott Nygaard (guitar) and Mark Schatz (bass, clawhammer banjo, ham bone, harmony vocal), with various guests.

Copyright © 1997 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.