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Darrell Scott Shares Some Secrets…
Touting an Exceptional New Album, Old Cane Back Rocker, He Ruminates On What It Takes to Be an Authentic Americana Icon (by Lee Zimmerman)
Darrell Scott is the epitome of the ideal journeyman. A multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter, he’s collaborated with practically everyone in the top tier of contemporary Bluegrass and Americana, including Robert Plant, Steve Earle, Sam Bush, Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, Tim O’Brien, Kate Ruby, Mary Gauthier, Tim O’Brien, Verlon Thomson, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and a list that goes on and on. He’s been the beneficiary of any number of kudos across the board, including Song of the Year honors from the Americana Music Association for “Hank Williams’ Ghost” and the elevated status of his song “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alone”, which became the closing track for the popular TV series “Justified” during several of its seasons.
Darrell Scott seems to have inherited his abilities quite naturally. Having inherited the traditional template of his dad, Wayne Scott, his father’s influence has never wavered. “This Weary Way”, one of a dozen tracks on his terrific new album, Old Cane Back Rocker, was, in fact, written by the elder Scott.
His first new collection of original material in several years (his last two efforts were Darrell Scott Sings the Blues of Hank Williams and a live solo album called Jaroso, both released in 2020), the album finds Scott working with a configuration he calls the Darrell Scott String Band, an all-star amalgam featuring Matt Flinner on banjo, mandolin, and vocals, Bryn Davies on upright bass, and vocals, fiddler, and singer Shad Cobb, along with special appearances by singer John Cowan, percussionist Daniel de Los Reyes, and engineer Shalom Aberle on voice-over. It finds Darrell Scott in full Bluegrass mode, courtesy of a set of mostly original songs written primarily by Scott, along with contributions from Flinner and Cobb as well as cowrites form Bruce Robison and John Cowan. The exceptions are his father’s aforementioned composition and a stunning take on the Crosby, Stills, and Nash standard “Southern Cross”.
‘I had the great help of putting this recording out with Soundly Music’ Scott says. ‘So, hallelujah, I have help in releases!’.
The inevitable question is, however, what took him so long to come up with an album of his own material?
‘I think, if I were being honest, it's because it feels cumbersome to release records’ Darrell Scott replied. ‘These days, it feels extremely easy to make records and to make music with friends or a band or a conceptual dispensing. But getting music out seems to be, I don't know, difficult. On one hand, it's easier than ever because of the internet, and because of the streaming of this and that. So, it's this ironic place of it being more difficult for me to put out records, but not so much as far as making those records. There's the irony that I have to live with. I've been tripped up on what to do with it. If it was music only, I have lots of music. It does not mean that I don't have other recordings. It's just, for some reason, a stymied process. I think I could make a record this afternoon, or I could call people up for a particular concept. I have other albums that are able and ready, or very near ready to come out as well. So I have to crack that code for the release’.
Fortunately, Scott was able to overcome the obstacles as far as Old Cane Back Rocker was concerned, as the title appears to indicate. ‘I did crack the code on this’ he agrees. ‘It is out and about, and I'm hearing people react to it. I just heard that WSM was spinning it and things like that. So, it's not a lack of music. It's a stymied way of thinking about how to put it out, and I don't doubt at all that the stymie is on me. For example, this record was recorded in 2019. We were three days in Boulder, Colorado with my fellow players and we were able to record an album over two weekends, instead of going home on the weekdays in-between. Anyway, I don't have a great excuse. That’s just what goes on with this stuff’.
Nevertheless, it’s not like Darrell Scott’s ever idle. Aside from performing live, he also makes a point of producing other people’s albums. In addition, he recently oversaw a remix of Guy Clark’s classic album, Dublin Blues, one of four Clark albums Scott played on from 1994 on.
‘It's all to illustrate the fact that there’s plenty of music, both in studio on my own, and in the studio with others’ Scott continues. ‘I'm not sure why I feel the way I do about the difficulty of releasing new albums. At the same time, these last several years speak for themselves, I suppose’.
It’s a common dilemma, Scott says. ‘Playing live shows, roughly speaking, is maybe what all of us have to do to make money. That’s just the world we live in, right now’.
Still, the new album lives up to its name. Scott singles out his take on “Southern Cross” as something that gives the album special meaning.
‘I certainly have loved that song ever since it came out in the ‘80s’ he maintains. ‘And then to have the reggae feel in the chorus is a direct reference to the sound the New Grass Revival brought in early on. They always had a reggae feel with some of their stuff, so it made sense to have John Cowan contribute to this version. I was in the wine country of California, and I heard the song one morning, and it just kind of knocked me out. I got very emotional, especially with that chorus. That line about ‘other voices calling’ — it almost brings a spiritual quality to it. I thought that chorus really captured that and then, with the voice of John Cowan and the sort of reggae thing that Newgrass used to do brought it all together. Plus, it was me wanting to have this group I’m with sing harmonies. On my records, we’ve never had three- and four-part harmony. So you add all that together and come up with this cover’.
His take on his father’s song, “This Weary Land”, naturally resonates in a very singular way as well. ‘I’ve always loved that song of dad’s’ he reflects. ‘I've always felt it was his best song. I've done it a time or two with Tim O'Brien over the years. So, I knew I could handle the full harmonies, and the fiddle, dobro, mandolin and all that stuff. I pulled that in as I was grabbing songs for to record with these folks’.
Of course, pulling songs together has never been a problem as far as Scott’s concerned. Throughout his career, he’s managed to navigate the middle ground between music that’s of classic origins and that which is considered contemporary. When speaking about the evolution of what is commonly called Americana, he cites the connection between those bands of the late ‘60s — The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the others that narrowed the divide between Rock and Country while avoiding the culture clash that once found followers for each irretractable opposites — and the music made today.
‘If you blur your eye at all, it's not a huge leap from the California Country Rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s to what you see on the current Americana charts’ he notes. ‘And that's what I set out to do. I’m so pleased to have these great players and writers and composers working with me, and to be a larger part of the picture. Maybe me being the songwriter of the year has something to do with a certain populism and making music that’s appealing more in a mass kind of way. Nevertheless, I continue to make music, whether I'm getting songwriter the year awards or whether this record flies up the charts or not. I'm going to make music, whether or not the accolades are there. The latter has something to do with something other than the music. It has more to do with your PR people and your label. If we were telling the truth, we’d admit that's what it actually is. So I make that distinction, because I know the music goes on whether the accolades follow, or they don’t’.
On the other hand, Darrell Scott may be unnecessarily modest. After all, he has the credentials that consistently elevate him to the top tier of today’s traditional troubadours.
‘It’s great when any of us who are doing it can get a lick in there, have have a good solid, strong record, or, get someone to say, ’Oh, my God, look, he's a Songwriter of the Year!’ or ‘Look, they're on the Letterman Show or the Late Show. Any of those are nice little licks for those of us who are carrying it forward. They’re cause for celebration. It may not last too long; it really depends on the PR staff and management and all those things we don't see behind the scenes. It’s like the The Wizard of Oz. There’s actually a frail little man behind the curtain’.
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