Tim and Mollie had been talking about doing a musical project with their combined families for a while. About a half-dozen years ago, the two families (save Mollie’s oldest daughter Brigid who was at school) all performed at the Shetland Folk Festival. Mollie recalls that they all had such a good time that “we thought this could work” as a band. However, it wasn’t until a family gathering a couple years back that the idea of doing a Roger Miller tune arose and Mollie suggested that they do an entire album of Miller songs. Everyone thought it was great idea – and so Reincarnation - The Songs of Roger Miller was born.
Tim says the main impetus for the project was something fun to bring the families together “other than funerals and weddings.” Mollie recalls that “we got serious once we got the (Miller) focus in place.” Tim sent around Miller songs to the others so everybody could pick out a couple tunes of interest. “I didn’t want to be ‘Dad’ telling everyone what to do,” Tim admits. “I wanted it to be a band where one everyone contributes equally.”
Both of Tim’s sons have some performing experience; Jackson plays bass in bands and Joel is a dancer who has toured with his dad. Mollie’s daughter Lucy has a music degree, while Brigid had the least performing experience, although Tim remarks that she was the most interested in finding songs. Mollie believes that the “kids picked really interesting things” and really blossomed as performers on Reincarnation. Jackson sings the serio-comic “Guv’ment” from the Big River musical, while Joel tackled the more serious “As Long As There’s A Shadow,” from Miller’s 1965 The Return of Roger Miller. Lucy took on the Miller/George Jones collaboration “Tall Tall Tree” and Brigid dug up the rather obscure “Swiss Maid,” while the two sisters harmonize on “You’re My Kingdom.”
The eclecticism of the song choices continued with the older generation’s selections. Tim picks up the banjo for the charming old-timey “In The Summertime” and plays the mandolin on the humorous “Hand For The Hog,” which features his son Joel on hambone. Rich Moore also has fun with “Got 2 Again” while Mollie lends her gorgeous voice to “Train of Life” and the title track, which she found a funny song with its “childlike happy go lucky” spirit for its serious subject.
This great diversity in Miller’s songs was a revelation to the O’Brien clan. While everyone was aware of his work to varying degrees, they were mostly familiar with his light-hearted hits, like “Dang Me,” “Chug-A-Lug” and “King of the Road.” They came up with such a wealth of Miller material that the only hit covered was “King of the Road,” a last minute addition that they rearranged because, as Tim states, “you can’t get better than the original.”
Miller’s music was part of the soundtrack that the O’Briens and Moore grew up with. One of the three songbooks that Tim had as a youth was a Roger Miller. Tim and Mollie played music together while in their teens. Mollie recalls her brother being an incredible guitar player even back then. In the late ‘80s, they teamed up again while Tim was still in Hot Rize. Together they made three albums as a duo before moving on to successful solo careers.
Family bands have had a long tradition in bluegrass and country music, from the Carters to the Gibson Brothers. Now you can add the O’Briens to this prestigious list. O’Brien Party of 7 brings together the families of those talented siblings Tim and Mollie O’Brien; however, their family band - true to Tim and Mollie’s eclectic respective careers - follows traditions while also being something distinctive.