"Wheels" from the album Wheels
"Whose Shoulder Will You Cry On" from the album Wheels
For over a decade, Dan Tyminski — a modest, down-to-earth, and ultra-talented folk artist — has served as a valuable component of the award-winning roots music act Alison Krauss & Union Station. On tour this summer in support of a fine new studio album of standards and originals, the guitarist/mandolinist/vocalist and his bluegrass quintet aim to step in a few new musical directions.
The band features longtime Union Station associate Barry Bales (bass), former Union Station and Mountain Heart member Adam Steffey (mandolin), Ron Stewart (banjo, fiddle), and Justin Moses (fiddle, dobro).
Bluegrass and folk music aficionados in the Charleston area were saddened when a concert scheduled for February 17 at the Charleston Music Hall was postponed. In short order, the gig was rescheduled, much to the delight of fans. The slight delay last winter was officially due to adjustments in the release of Tyminski's new 12-song album Wheels. The collection was finally issued by Rounder Records last week
Wheels digs deep into emotional and romantic territory. Tyminski's masterful guitar work and his bandmate's skillful accompaniment enhances the various moods along the way.
"There are some sad songs for sure," Tyminski agrees. "I think there are some situations where the melody of the music makes you feel what the words are saying. Others have a more happy, feel-good groove to them. It's a mix. What was on my mind as we worked on things was to showcase these guys as a talented group. We worked up each song as it came to us, and the important thing to me was making sure each sounded right for this combination of guys. Bluegrass music can definitely cover a lot of area. You don't have to stay within one particular vein. I think this album showcases the different directions you can take.
"Once we decided that we were going to play and record together, the song hunt really began," he adds. "I had a few songs put away that I knew I wanted to do. When we started recording this record, we only had about half of the songs together. That material found us after we started the recording process."
The bandleader performed only a few shows under the name Dan Tyminski Band seven years ago, when he put out his first solo album, 2000's Carry Me Across the Mountain. "That was a band that really was only put together for those shows," he says. "The main difference with this band now is that we definitely have the intentions of staying together and recording more music."
The band welcomed guest appearances by Ron Block, Cheryl and Sharon White, and Vince Gill into the studio during the production of Wheels. While those special guests made cool contributions to a few songs, the vibrant chemistry between Tyminksi and his mates — and the blend of his tawny singing style with the richness of the dense string work — are the highlights.
"Adam Steffey was in Union Station when I joined," says Tyminski. "We've traveled together for years. He's one of my really good friends. One thing that makes the chemistry between these guys so good is that we all listened to the same music growing up. We're influenced by the same guys and on the same page. They keep me on my toes, that's for sure. Their level of musicianship is extremely high. When I'm playing with people who are that talented and capable, it inspires me to make sure I'm holding up my end."
Cohesive and fluid, there is plenty of variety on Wheels. Tyminski shares credit for this with his bandmates, all of whom collaborate on the ideas on arrangements.
"We didn't do anything without everyone being there together," Tyminski says. "With this group of guys, it was really easy."
Currently based in Nashville, Tyminski has been an official member of Union Station for the past 14 years and continues to be a major part of the band.
In 2000, he provided the singing voice of actor George Clooney in the Coen Brothers' film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The powerful rendition of the Stanley Brothers' version of "Man of Constant Sorrow" became an award-winning hit single.
Despite a sudden boost in popularity as the "Man of Constant Sorrow" guy, he veered away from the spotlight and remained focused on the music — both as a band leader and as a versatile sideman. Rolling Stone recently asserted that he "helped push bluegrass to the front line" over the last few years.
"I don't know how hard I'm trying to push things to the front line, but I am concerned with preserving the integrity of traditional bluegrass music," he says. "There are so many variations of all different types of music that it's nice to have a band centered on the roots of the music. And you don't have to be sitting on a hay bale with a straw hat to enjoy it. Bluegrass music, when played right, is classic sounding and still very contemporary sounding.
"It means so much to me that people make live music a priority," he adds. "Nothing compares to live music in the moment. You just give a bit of your soul and it's a unique experience."