Somewhat of a departure, yet still close to home, Cup of Sugar finds Tim O’Brien straddling both sides of the fence where the grass is both blue and greener.  

It’s also – for the first time in his decades-long career – and album of all original songs. 

Primarily a bluegrass musician, O’Brien, who wrote or co-wrote the 13 tracks, occasionally strays far off his chosen genre – drums, keys and pedal steel are all part of the mix alongside banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar.  He swings New Orleans style on the drudgery-is-better-than-death, workingman’s blues of “The Pay’s a Lot Better Too” and goes out to the country with wife Jan Fabricius, with whom he duets on the marriage-as-malaise ballad “She Can’t, He Won’t and They’ll Never.”

But all’s not doom and gloom around this Cup of Sugar and O’Brien turns to the animal kingdom for comical analogies as he explores ecology on the funky “Bear;” avoids the bait of heartbreak on the swaggering “Thinkin’ Like a Fish” and chronicles the passage of time on “Little Lamb, Little Lamb.” 

“I was young once/but I won’t be young again/you wouldn’t understand/little lamb little lamb,” he sings. 

Bluegrass aficionados get their fill, too, as Del McCoury lends his high lonesome to the sonic hootenanny that is “Let the Horses Run” and the ghost of John Hartford imbues the fiddle-centric “Diddleye Day” making Cup of Sugar a sweet taste for everyone.