Tim O'Brien

Traveler

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Traveler arrives like some horseman from the dusty past. His news is blunt, if not apocalyptic, with warnings that the future promises only "rotting flesh and broken bone." His chaps are stained with blood shed during the Civil War, and the trail he's followed from then until now runs alongside the Mississippi before melting into "a road without end" that winds back toward where our memories began. O'Brien lays all this out with help from some impressive players, but even the often incendiary Béla Fleck joins with them in toning down the fireworks and creating evocative settings through the most minimal gestures -- a slow-motion guitar arpeggio, a keening fiddle, a note here or there to complement O'Brien's relaxed delivery. It's significant, perhaps, that the album opens with "Kelly Joe's Shoes," an ode to a pair of beat-up sneakers that gave O'Brien some pretty good mileage, and ends with "Less & Less," which celebrates the joys of moving through life with as little baggage as possible. From music through message, Traveler just about gets it right.

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