Review By Steven Stone
Even if you haven't heard of Dan Tyminski, most likely you've heard his music. His Grammy-winning version of "I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow" from the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers' O Brother Where Art Thou? garnered a ton of airplay on Americana and Bluegrass radio. Few musicians can count on a lifetime gig, but Dan Tyminski's "day job" in Alison Krause's Union Station band is at least as secure as any tenured college professor. But even though Tyminski has a gold-plated regular job he isn't content to merely accompany a superstar headliner. Wheels is excellent immersion course in what makes Tyminski tick musically.
The songs on Wheels pursue the same direction as his first solo album, Carry Me across the Mountain. Tyminski delights in adding an extra helping of bluesy down-home funk to country and bluegrass tunes. Perhaps some of this added grit is a reaction to what he plays in Union Station, where the arrangements lean toward clean and slick. His own material has a bit more grit. In comparison to traditional bluegrass bands such as Dan Paisley and the Southern Grass, Tyminski's sounds is quite modern, but compared with new acoustic bands such as Crooked Still or Nickel Creek Tyminski's approach is positively conservative.
Although all the material on Wheels is of recent vintage, Tyminski and his fine band turn every cut into instant bluegrass classic. Union Station bandmate Ron Block's tune "The One You Lean On" is a good example of how Tyminski can emphasize a song's fundamental core. The instrumental solos are all solid, but they are subservient to the tune's emotional impact. On mandolinist Adam Steffy's instrumental, "Knock, Knock," Tyminski demonstrates his formidable rhythm guitar chops. Keeping up with Steffy's mandolin, Ron Stewart's banjo, and Justin Moses fiddle isn't for the faint-hearted. Despite all the superb picking, Tyminski's vocals are he real stars on Wheels. Even cameo appearances by superstar vocalists such as Vince Gill and Sharon White can't upstage Tyminski's powerful lead vocals.
Although it's taken eight years for Tyminski to record his second solo album, the gap certainly wasn't due to a lack of direction. Wheels occupies a very precise space in bluegrass firmament between old-time and modern acoustic music. His neo-traditional approach will appeal to anyone whose tastes lean toward traditional acoustic Americana.