identity for Hot Rize called Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, and ever since Hot Rize's breakup his solo career has been notable for its breadth of engagement with the roots of American music and for the ways he has made traditional music his own. O'Brien is hardly a household name, but he's an underrated musical explorer.
O'Brien's roughly twenty solo albums include an all-bluegrass Dylan tribute, a pair of releases delving into the Irish musical odyssey in America that go way beyond the stereotypical boxes into which that subject is usually put, old-time music performed by himself or with his sister Mollie O'Brien, electric folk-rock versions of traditional songs, and more. He penned a couple of country hits for Kathy Mattea--playing one once in Akron, he announced that it had paid for several large appliances--and even cracked the country Top Ten once in a duet with Mattea called "The Battle Hymn of Love." And there are few wittier practitioners of the novelty song around these days. His bluegrasser "Running Out of Memory" is about computers, not love gone wrong.