Yet both albums are made up mostly of traditional music, with a few O'Brien originals and songs from other sources artfully dropped in to vary the pace. Cornbread Nation inclines toward funky rhythms and songs drawn from African American tradition — "Moses," "When This World Comes to an End," and "Let's Go Huntin'" ("When your dog bark, it don't mean nothin' / When my dog bark, he done treed somethin'"). But there's a grand variety of material, including "The Foggy Foggy Dew," to which O'Brien restores some bawdy lyrics that earned Burl Ives a night in jail in the 1960s. Fiddler's Green is likewise heavy on traditional songs of travel and death but holds various ideas together. Taken as a whole, O'Brien's new music seems to be reaching for a point where electric instruments are simply an option among the many ways of making musical sound in American tradition.
How will it play out in concert? That's a question you can ask a master musician by getting tickets and getting on down to his show.
[Review published October 2005]