May 21 2017

Tim O’Brien with support Kaia Kater, Friday 19th May 2017

Friday night’s show almost didn’t happen. Both acts had played in Edinburgh the previous night. Kaia and Andrew caught the train. Tim and Jan drove a few miles out of Edinburgh and suffered a double tyre blowout. They made the venue a few minutes before scheduled opening time, did a very quick sound check and were good to go with only a slight delay for door opening time. Fortunately, they knew their way as this was their second visit.

Photos by Graham Smout:

The opening act, Kaia Kater, is a young self-assured African-Canadian clawhammer banjo player, very ably accompanied by equally young Andrew Ryan on double bass. She grew up listening to Canadian folk music at her parents’ home in Toronto and later studied Appalachian music in West Virginia. We knew we were in for a special night from the opening notes of her first song, Little Pink. Playing banjo throughout and taking tenor vocals with Andrew adding greatly to a rootsy, jazz tinged mix of instrumentals. An outstanding acapella Signs and Wonders made an apocalyptic song seem a thing of beauty. With two CDs to her name so far, SORROW BOUND (2015) and NINE PIN (2016), it was their first UK visit with another planned later this year; watch out for her.

Mark Radcliffe recently described Tim O’Brien as a Bluegrass musical genius who you would love to hate but can’t because he is such a nice guy. On Friday, he limited himself to virtuoso bluegrass/Americana performances on vocals, guitar, fiddle and mandolin. I suppose he could have borrowed Kaia’s banjo if he had felt ridiculously adventurous but that might have just been regarded as showing off! To add to that level of skill he is also a great song writer as well as somewhat of a comedian on stage.

Photos by Keith Belcher:

Tim opened on guitar with Walk Beside Me, a song co-written with his great friend and brilliant song writer Darrell Scott. That was followed by I’ve Endured, both songs very appropriate following his trials during the day. Tim is equally adept at plectrum style or finger picks, it was quite astonishing just how flawless his playing was. The very moving Like I Used to Do was requested before the show. Tim then moved to fiddle, an instrumental tune first and then with the ever popular Working on a Building demonstrating how to sing while playing. Next, we had the mandolin, Ditty Boy Twang was followed by an instrumental Kid on the Mountain.

Tim’s partner Jan Fabricius then joined Tim on stage for the rest of the night supplying great backing vocals and harmonies.  Tim switched back to guitar, their first song, Gillian Welch’s Wichita. Tim and sister Molly were among the first to recognise the phenomenal talent of Gillian Welch and were the first to record the song back in 1994. After recounting the story of their day’s travels and numerous jokes about West Virginia most of the rest of the night comprised of songs from the new CD WHERE THE RIVER MEETS THE ROAD, which comprises songs from West Virginia. Tim, born in West Virginia has a great interest as he is on the Board of the West Virginia Music hall of Fame. The title song was inspired by Tim’s great grandfather.

We were treated to almost the entire album in stripped back form. It should be noted however that the musicians on the actual CD are Nashville royalty. Stuart Duncan plays fiddle throughout, as does Noam Pikelny on Banjo, Victor Krauss on Bass to name but a few, the list goes on and on. Also, guesting on vocals is multi award winning Chris Stapleton.   High Flying Bird was the first of many songs from the CD. Particularly moving was self-penned Guardian Angel, a story inspired by and about Tim’s sister Brigid who tragically passed away at only 6 years of age.

The set just flew by, finishing with Little Annie, which is also the last song on the CD. We were treated to 2 encores. The first, The Water is Wise, a co-write with the awesomely talented Sarah Jarosz who also sang the song on her UK tour earlier this year. An audience sing along ended the show with the gospel Oh, Lord, How Long first recorded by Odette and Ethel in 1926. Another great night at The Live Room, Caroline Street, Saltaire.

Review by Keith Belcher