Words and Photos by Nicholas Stock
The legendary Tim O’Brien is fresh off the heels of his 40th-anniversary tour with Hot Rize and almost instantly he’s reemerged with a new album and a new band. The aptly named Tim O’Brien Band consists of Mike Bub, Shad Cobb, Jan Fabricius, and Patrick Sauber all pitching in on new and reimagined material. For the self-titled album released in March Tim sat down to write with both Dan Auerbauch from the Black Keys and Shawn Camp from The Earls of Leicester. They also paid homage to Norman Black and Woody Guthrie. Musically Tim is still at the very top of his game and his band shows equal brilliance. They invited bluegrass phenoms Masontown to start the night off.
Masontown is composed of five young and incredibly talented individuals with a focus on a sound that is ageless. Their music is fresh and utterly new while simultaneously remaining reverent and nostalgic. Masontown is Natalie Padilla on fiddle, Mike Canney on mandolin, Eric Wiggs on guitar, Bradley Morse on bass and Sam Armstrong-Zickefoose on banjo. Morse is best known locally as the bassist for the Gasoline Lollipops. Early in the set, Natalie took vocal duties on the ill-fated love song told from the perspective of a seaman entitled “The Sailor’s Love.” Sam treated us to a song he wrote for his mother called “Dance Mama Dance.” The vocal harmonies were on point throughout their 45-minute set. They closed it down with “Jenny.” Masontown is one to watch out for, they are creating fresh Americana here on the Front Range and it won’t be long before others catch wind.
When the music doesn’t have to fight with the din of a bar it takes on more meaning. Fans are able to focus and listen to the musical intricacies emanating from the stage. The Armory is the perfect listening room in Fort Collins, and to see Tim O’Brien on such an intimate stage was an absolute treat. Their set lasted about ninety minutes and gave the audience a true taste of Tim’s signature showmanship.
Mr. O’Brien got the evening going with a plucky version of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands.” They took the opportunity to showcase a number of tracks off the new album including the seminal Woody Guthrie tune “Pastures of Plenty” and Tim’s ode to the dying time, “Beyond.” At one point Tim dismissed his bandmates and produced a fiddle. He went into the gospel traditional made famous by Bill Monroe “Working On a Building.” In the silence of the Armory, Mr. O’Brien took us all to church. They closed the set with Tim’s now classic mandolin tune “Look Down That Lonesome Road.” The full band returned to encore with his unrequited love song “I’ll Still Write Your Name In The Sand.” The Tim O’Brien Band is a powerful force in the ever-evolving world of bluegrass. Tim has done it all, it seems now he is content just having a good time playing great music. If you get the chance to catch Tim and his crew live, they are the real deal.