My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: O’Brien Party Of Seven – ‘Reincarnation – The Songs Of Roger Miller’

reincarnationRoger Miller passed away on October 25, 1992. In the twenty years since his death performers and songwriters have come and gone, but none who had the imagination or wit of Roger Miller. Most of the readers of this blog likely are too young to remember when Miller burst on the scene in the 1964 with his off-the-wall repartee’ in songs such as “King of The Road”, “Dang Me”, “Chug A Lug” and “England Swings” although they may well remember having heard the songs. Miller was also a master at finding songs excellent songs from other writers – he was the first to record Bobby Russell’s “Little Green Apples” and he had the first (and best) recording of Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobbie McGee”.

Fads and fashions change, and Miller’s run as a huge chart artist ended after 1973. After a long hiatus, Miller was talked out of retirement during the early 1980s to provide the music for the successful Broadway musical Big River, which was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning seven (including Best Original Score for Miller). Big River was based on the exploits of Huckleberry Finn from Mark Twain’s novels.

Miller’s songs continue to be performed to this day, Alan Jackson (“Tall, Tall Trees”) and Brooks & Dunn (“Husbands and Wives”) each reaching the number one spot on country charts in during the middle to late 1990s.

Tim and Mollie O’Brien are excellent performers who work in the folk and bluegrass idioms. Tim O’Brien was a member of the highly acclaimed group Hot Rize, plays virtually any instrument with strings and is an accomplished songwriter having written songs recorded by many artists in the country and bluegrass realms. Mollie O’Brien, more folk than bluegrass, is an accomplished singer who has recorded many albums as a solo artist as well as albums with brother Tim and husband Rich Moore.

Tim, Mollie and Rich are from my generation and remember the depth and breadth of the Roger Miller catalog. They felt Miller’s songs would provide a fine unifying theme for a family recording project for their talented offspring. Rather than dictate the agenda, the parents turned their sons and daughters loose to select songs that appealed to them. The end result is a fascinating selection of songs, which includes several selections from Big River, but only one of Roger’s big hits, the ubiquitous “King of The Road”. Trust me, the lack of the big hits does nothing to diminish the quality of the material.

PERSONNEL: Rich Moore (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, resonator guitar); Tim O’Brien (vocals, electric guitar, banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, ukulele, fiddle, pump organ); Lucy Moore (vocals, keyboards); Joel O’Brien, Jackson O’Brien, Brigid Moore, Mollie O’Brien (vocals); John Gardner (drums).

Rich Moore is Mollie O’ Brien’s husband – Lucy & Brigid are their daughters. Joel & Jackson are Tim O’Brien’s sons.

THE SONGS (note: unless otherwise indicated, album references are to albums released on Smash or Mercury).

The album leads off with “Reincarnation”, an amusing ditty that was an album track on Miller’s The Return Of Roger Miller (which featured “King of The Road and “Do-Whacka-Do” as the singles). I don’t know if Roger believed in reincarnation, but he makes a good case for why it should exist. This song also was recorded by Jim Nabors for his album Shazam! – Gomer Pyle, USMC, a version that received some airplay for Nabors when released in the mid 1960s.

If l was a bird and you was a fish
What would we do, l guess we’d wish
For re-incarnation, re-incarnation
Wouldn’t it be a sensation
To come back too, like reincarnation

“As Long As There’s A Shadow” is another song that was buried on The Return Of Roger Miller. Joel O’Brien selected this song and sings lead vocals. One of Roger’s more serious songs, I was delighted to see this song covered:

As long as there’s a sun there’s a shadow
As long as there’s a shadow
There’s a place for you and me

“In The Summertime” was the burst of success for Roger Miller, released on RCA in 1960 under the title “You Don’t Want My Love”, although most people will remember it from The Return Of Roger Miller album. The song can be performed as a humorous number or fairly seriously as when Andy Williams recorded it. Since no one can out-Roger Miller Roger Miller, Tim wisely gives the song a straightforward treatment.

“Tall Tall Trees” is given a straight-ahead treatment by Lucy Moore. The song was a hit for Alan Jackson in 1995 and was recorded by both Roger Miller and co-writer George Jones. Jones placed the song on his 1958 album Long Live King George and Miller on his relatively obscure 1970 album A Trip In The Country in which Roger ‘covered’ songs he’s written which had been hits for other singers.

Brigid Moore takes the lead vocals on “Swiss Maid” (a/k/a “Fair Swiss Maiden”), a song which had been a minor pop hit for Del Shannon. The song originally appeared on the RCA Camden album Roger Miller, but it was also recorded as part of The 3rd Time Around, an album that featured “Engine Engine #9” and “Kansas City Star” as the singles.

“Got 2 Again” is a serious song with some humorous wordplay around arithmetic. This song originally appeared on Roger’s first Smash label album Roger And Out. When “Dang Me” unexpectedly became a huge hit, the album was hastily withdrawn and reissued bearing the title of the hit.

And in this song, we employ the use of numbers
And what I’ll do is have a volunteer give me a number
And I’ll take that number
And make a verse for a song out it

Now, if someone will give me
A number between 20 and 22
I’ll show you, what I mean, 21
That’s very good, first time, 21

Well, 21 take away 9
12 little children standing in a line
From that take 2 that leaves you 10
Take away 8 and you got 2 again

Yeah, you got 2 again, you got 2 again
You used to love me once and now you got 2 again
You got 2 again, you got 2 again
You used to love me once and now, you got 2 again

Now see how easy that was
For the second verse
I need someone to give me a number
Between 12 and 14, I’ll make a verse

Silly, I know but I remember seeing Roger ask for song ideas from the audience and compose something right on the spot – I doubt that he ever copyrighted the song he did about petunias, but he should have done so.

“Guv’ment” was a song from the musical Big River. John Goodman sang the song on the original soundtrack album and did a fine job with the song. Roger performed songs from the play on his 1986 MCA album Roger Miller. Jackson O’Brien handles the vocals quite well. The song worked well in the context of the play, but I’m not really sure it works as a stand-alone song, although it echoes my sentiments on the subject quite well.

Well you dad gum guv’ment you sorry so and so’s
You got your damn hands in every pocket of my clothes
Well you dad gum dad gum dad gum guv’ment uh huh
Oh don’t you know, oh don’t you love ’em sometimes, uh huh

“Hand For The Hog” is another song from Big River. Tim O’Brien does a fine job with the vocals, albeit without Miller’s comic flair. This is not a knock on Tim – there was only one Roger Miller.

Words And Music By Roger Miller spawned “Train Of Life”, a serious lyric in an album full of great lyrics, both ridiculous and serious:

I got no one to call me their darling
To hug me and call me their hon
I’m tired of sittin’ on the side of track
Just to watchin’ the mainline run

I’m tired of havin’ no future
Livin’ on things that I’ve done
I’m tired of sittin’ on the side of track
Just watchin’ the mainline run

Lucy and Brigid Moore engage in some nice harmony on “You’re My Kingdom” also from Words And Music By Roger Miller. This is a fairly conventional love song, just more proof that Roger could write anything.

You say that others tempt you and it’s hard to turn them down
You say that you get lonesome when I’m not around
Please remember you’re my kingdom and I want to always wear a crown
Though temptation’s knocking please don’t let him in
Tell him that it’s my arms you long to be in
Please remember you’re my kingdom and I want to always wear a crown

Every cover version I’ve ever heard of “King Of The Road” has used the same basic arrangement of the song that Roger used. This, of course, sets up the inevitable comparison to Roger’s original, a comparison no artist can win. Tim O’Brien avoids the problem altogether by coming up with a radically different arrangement. While I still prefer Roger’s original version, I like Tim’s endeavor very much, with its very bluesy staccato phrasing and accompaniment.

I really enjoyed this album; my only criticism is that it could be much longer with no drop-off in quality. Mentally, I can hear the terrific job this aggregation could have done with songs such as “Tom Green County Fair” “South” and “Pardon This Coffin”. Here’s hoping for more – and here’s hoping this album interests a new generation in the music of Roger Miller.

Grade: A

One response to “Album Review: O’Brien Party Of Seven – ‘Reincarnation – The Songs Of Roger Miller’

  1. Pingback: Album Review: Various Artists – ‘King Of The Road: A Tribute To Roger Miller’ | My Kind of Country

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