By Kathy Sands-Boehmer

Tim O'Brien

Tim O’Brien is one heck of a musician. Just ask Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits who asked Tim to join his band for a nationwide tour. Mark calls him “a master of American folk music, Irish music, Scottish music — it doesn’t matter; a fine songwriter and one of my favorite singers.” That’s high praise from a music legend.

Tim’s music is unique yet familiar. It’s fun, it’s comforting, it’s real.

How would you describe your CD Chicken and Egg?

It’s a lot of fun is what it is. Swingin’, rockin’, bluegrass and old time mashin.’ And the songs are the story of my extraordinarily typical American life. True songs, as Bill Monroe would say. Enough humor to cut the sadness and make it almost welcome. I hope so anyway. I like all the songs and have no regrets about how it came out. That’s unusual. I got to do what I do, with the right help from a stellar core group of Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Mike Bub, and Dennis Crouch. I get to sing my dad’s own words on a couple songs, and that helps me because he died last fall and I miss him.

If someone was not familiar with your music at all, which recording would you suggest that they listen to first?

Chicken and Egg is about perfect, but you could try Traveler, or Fiddler’s Green, or Rock in My Shoe.

You were recently on the road with Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits. What was it like being part of his band? What kind of audiences did you play for?

We played for hard-core Knopfler fans. Tickets sold out soon after the tour was announced. Smaller halls – {seating] from 1500 to 4000. I was filling in for a buddy on maternity leave, but then he wanted me to stay on through the bigger venues in Europe all the way through July. My part was the North America tour. Great gig in Boston! I learned a lot — how well you can be rehearsed, for instance. Also, how good the production can be, and how to play less to make a bigger sound. It’s serious business; he doesn’t mess around. I liked playing electric guitar on a few. Killer players. Mark’s a true gentleman, commands a lot of respect and gives plenty back.

Your songs have been recorded by a number of very well-known musicians. Do you have any favorites and, if so, what stands out about that musician’s take on your song?

Kathy Mattea’s version of “Untold Stories” was remarkably close to how I imagined it. A great groove. Hot Rize’s version was good but more of a compromise to the original feel. I love that too, though. If a song is good, it can live many lives, and it won’t wear out. I’m always honored and proud when anyone else sings my song, whether it’s Garth Brooks or a Facebook fan.

Do you have any plans to record any more with your sister, Mollie?

We’re planning a family band record. It’s gonna be cool. Her husband Rich, daughters Brigid and Lucy, my sons Jack and Joel. All Roger Miller songs. [We’re] getting the list of songs and who sings ‘em now.

Like many of us, Kathy Sands-Boehmer wears many hats. An editor by profession, she also operates Harbortown Music and books artists for the Me and Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead, Massachusetts. In her spare time, Kathy can be found at local music haunts all over New England. This and many previous Q & A interviews with artists are archived at, as well as in the Features section of