Tim O'Brien Traveler (Howdy Skies/Sugar Hill) Rating: NNN
Although multi-instrumentalist Tim O'Brien is best known for his innovative picking with newgrass threats Hot Rize, he's also an in-demand sessioneer and hit songwriter who's seen chart action with Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks. On Traveler, he ditches the rootsy approach of his last few releases and goes for a glossier pop-grass concept with help from pals Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Darrell Scott and Dirk Powell. The twangy bits are downplayed, while O'Brien's cheery John Denver-style crooning is bumped way up in the mix to get those crucial AAA radio spins his label is after. Unfortunately, most of O'Brien's fans don't buy his recordings for the singing.
Tim O'Brien plays Hugh's Room Saturday (November 1).