There are no easy labels for Darrell Scott. In his career he’s been a first-call session musician in Nashville, a songwriter, performer, collaborator and producer — and he recently toured with Robert Plant as part of his Band of Joy.
In Scott’s world, it’s not that he’s all over the map, but rather it’s just a very big map. In the end, as he discussed with me on the phone from his home in Nashville, whatever it is that he’s doing or wherever he is, it’s all music.
Glen Herbert: What’s the new project, and when is it coming out?
Darrell Scott: I’ve got a new record coming out in January called “Long Ride Home.”
How does it differ from the other things you’ve done?
This one in terms of style is very country. Still singer-songwriter oriented, I’ve written all the songs, but if someone were to hear it they’d probably know within the first 10 seconds that this is old-style country.
This is country music from my childhood basically. In my band for that [album] was a guy named Pig Robbins on piano. His first hit that he played on was 1961, George Jones, a song called “White Lightning.” And Pig has just been a central piano player for the next 30 years after that, I would say. And so when I wanted to make this record, sort of an old country sounding record, I simply hired some of the people who played on old country back when it was old country. Pig was one of those. And a guy named Lloyd Green on pedal steel. I used upright bass, which is the old sound of country music, as opposed to an electric bass.
I tend to make records that have a sonic kind of theme, for example on this one old country music would be the theme, or other records that have a subject matter of a theme, like “A Crooked Road,” a double CD that to me was based on the idea of how did I get here. So that becomes a subject, a theme that will try to hold the record together.
So that’s the musical theme on that one. On “A Crooked Road” it was looking at 30 years of relationships, just somehow taking off on this road of chasing love and marriage and romance and all this stuff. Thirty years of it and being a 50-year-old man. And that’s the other thing — I turned 50 while I made the record — and somehow that seems significant as it related to the subject, looking at this crooked road of me chasing love and relationships. So it just seemed like, OK, this is a record for me to play everything on it. Because it’s such a personal note and a personal view. I’ve always wanted to make a record where I played everything, anyway. And so I just went ahead and did that. And it seemed the appropriate record to go ahead and do that.
Last night, fans found refuge from the rain and had their spirits lifted by the Blind Boys of Alabama‘s moving performance.
The cold wetness outside seemed miles away as the Southern group’s warm harmonies radiated from the Old Rock House stage. With matching embroidered black suits and dark sunglasses, the Blind Boys rallied around Jimmy Carter, a veteran of the stage and member of the original group that banded together in an institute for the blind in 1939.
Carter’s deep vocals have not wavered with time, nor has the performer’s jovial presence, which brought the crowd to its feet. There were chairs in front of the stage, which is an unusual set-up for the Old Rock House, but it made sense once Carter descended into the audience with help from a stage worker and maneuvered around the seats. Delighted attendees ranged in ages, including a few small children who joined their parents to witness a continuing part of American music history that featured both traditional and newer music.
Touring openers Sara and Sean Watkins, formerly of Nickel Creek, kicked off the night with a set of modern acoustic folk. The Blind Boys joined them onstage as Sara Watkins’ fiddle and Sean Watkins’ guitar were welcome additions to the Southern sextet during “Jesus Built a Bridge to Heaven.”
Throughout the night, both the band and audience’s intensity gathered steam as the Blind Boys powered through spiritual classics such as “Free At Last,” as well as their stunning version of “Amazing Grace,” which is set to the music of “House of the Rising Sun.” (The group performed “Amazing Grace” live at KDHX just before the show. Hear it here.) These and other songs showcased the ability of Carter (who sounds a bit like the late Solomon Burke) as well as fellow singers Eric McKinnie and Ben Moore who provided both backup and solo deliveries.
Bearfoot has gone through changes along the way, though the lineup on its latest release is the greatest departure from the original set.
Famously forming at a music camp in Alaska, the band really came into the public consciousness just prior to the release of the band’s last album, “Doors and Windows.” Seeing them live at that time was infectious — all smiles, this seemed like a group of friends out on a lark and having a great time. I saw them at Merlefest in 2009, and during their set they said they came up with a song, literally, while driving to North Carolina from Alaska and wanted to try it out.
The song was “Good in the Kitchen” and it sparkled, the band all the while looking like kids who had just discovered a new favorite toy. They seemed to be having as much fun as the audience, perhaps a bit genuinely surprised at all the attention they were getting.
And they were also making fantastic music together. Their visitation to the Carter standard “Single Girl” was breathtaking, with an arrangement that allowed all of the heartbreak and regret of the song to come forward. I loved it, lots of people loved it. Odessa Jorgensen’s vocals were layered and complex; the twin fiddle work was brilliantly tight and Mike Mickelson’s guitar work inspired.
But things change, and with success come other pressures. Spending so much time in a van so far from home can’t be easy, at least not all the time. And whether it was those pressures, or others, the changes to the band since the last release to this have been profound. “American Story” is the debut of the new set, and in the promo material surrounding the release, the members can’t keep from calling it the “new” Bearfoot. The only members that remain are Angela Oudean, a wonderful fiddle player and harmony vocalist, and Jason Norris on mandolin. Both great musicians in their own right, but neither has fronted the band, and arguably neither was responsible for its emotional core. That remains true in the new line up as well. That Oudean and Norris both appear in the background of the promo photos on the band website is, well, appropriate.
Concert review: Alison Krauss and Union Station stage impressive comeback at the Fox Theatre, Thursday, September 22
After a bit of a hiatus due to her Grammy-winning collaboration with Robert Plant, Alison Krauss is back with Union Station.
The band is touring to support its first record of new material in more than six years, “Paper Airplane,” and they proved to the audience at the Fox Theater last night that they haven’t lost a step during the break.
The band took the stage with no fanfare and kicked off the show with the first two tracks from their latest record, the title cut and “Dust Bowl Children,” featuring multi-instrumentalist Dan Tyminski on vocals. They then slid into the instrumental “Who’s Your Uncle” from band member (and dobro master) Jerry Douglas’ solo record “The Best Kept Secret,” before Krauss took a breather and spun a tale of watching late-night commercials for cosmetic neck lifts and the Genie Bra on the way to the gig. Krauss has always had an easy-going charm, and she immediately connected with the audience. From then on, she commanded the crowd’s full attention.
The show wasn’t merely a marketing event for the latest record. Krauss and company, periodically augmented by a percussionist and pianist, laid down a solid set of songs documenting the band’s history, from 1989′s “Two Highways” through their latest release, with several stops at 2001′s “New Favorite” and, of course, the “O’ Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack, along the way.
With so much musical firepower at their disposal, the band was surprisingly restrained. Except for a couple of extended solo dobro improvs by Douglas that marked the halfway point of the performance, there were no rollicking jams or careening solos.
The past week begins with a Monday night latin/reggae/shred session with Michael Franti and Santana at the Fox Theatre. Then all of a sudden it became Friay and as a result two photographers ventured West for the Roots ‘N Blues Festival in Columbia, MO while one went incognito to catch AUCW5 at the Firebird. Harvest Sessions carried on and blues photographer Rick Priest makes his deput on photography highlights with photos from Walter Trout‘s show at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups.
If you like what you see and need more, be sure to check out the full galleries in Music News on KDHX.org.
Concert review: A weekend of smoking (and smoked) food and music in Columbia at the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival, September 9-10
As a proud Mizzou alumna, I was tremendously excited to attend the 2011 Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival in Columbia, Mo. for the first time last weekend. Now in its fifth year, this mid-Missouri celebration of food and music takes place in the streets of downtown Columbia and partially on the Mizzou Campus in beautiful Peace Park.
The festival, a true collaboration of multiple Columbia groups and individuals, has grown significantly since it began and attracts internationally known and legendary acts. Among this year’s lineup were Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Mavis Staples of the Staples Singers, blues legends Taj Mahal and Robert Cray, bluegrass/roots music stars Sam Bush and Dr. Ralph Stanley, and up-and-coming acts like Toubab Krewe and Fitz and the Tantrums.
Having attended numerous music festivals large and small, I can say that no matter how great the lineups are, a festival can be made or broken by the way it is set up, the ease of getting around, parking, stage visibility and other convenience factors. Roots N Blues N BBQ succeeded on all accounts, making it a real delight to attend for being just so simple.
With multiple entrance points to the ticketed areas from every side of downtown, going in and out was no problem with a simple wristband after initial entry. This made it very easy to take breaks outside of the festival area in downtown bars, restaurants and even quick jaunts back to our home base at a friend’s house nearby. There’s something to be said for holding a first-rate music festival in a small town like Columbia. When you eliminate the stress of getting around a big city, it’s just so much easier to enjoy the music — and enjoy we did.
We entered the festival grounds early Friday evening at Peace Park, just in time to hear gospel queen Mavis Staples start preaching to the gathering crowd as the mouthwatering smell of barbecue wafted through the air. Unless you’re a vegetarian, there’s just something great about listening to good music outdoors while eating and smelling smoked meat. The food is just as much a star of this festival as the tunes, with numerous choices and even a BBQ competition.
Whenever you tire of songs of young love or teen anguish, it’s nice to know that Blue Highway is making music like that on “Sounds of Home.”
Coming at a new album from Blue Highway it’s easy to expect lots of things, perhaps foremost among them is the band’s unflagging professionalism. This album — like everything Blue Highway has done, frankly — sparkles with maturity and confidence, and there’s good reason for that. The band has been together (as Jon Weisberger notes in the beautiful liner essay) for more than 15 years without any personnel changes. That’s unusual in the world of bluegrass, but perhaps it is because this is a group of players that proved themselves long before forming as Blue Highway. They are veterans of studio work, as well as playing with the biggest names out there, including Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Doyle Lawson and others.
To a man, they are all great players, and the proof of that is abundant. Rob Ickes alone has won the IBMA’s Dobro player of the year 11 times. Guitarist Tim Stafford has taught music, written about it, served as chair on the IBMA board, and in 2001 was voted guitar performer of the year. Much like the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Blue Highway is in the realm of supergroup in that the members’ skills are so consummate and so evenly matched. Again, they’ve got nothing to prove, chops-wise, and thankfully they don’t feel the need to. The result is an album of songs rather than a collection of licks and solos.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the ideas and the stories the songs on “Sounds of Home” tell. As on past Blue Highway songs — such as “He Walked All the Way Home,” “Before the Cold Wind Blows,” or more recently “Homeless Man,” penned by bassist Wayne Taylor — the songs here grab your attention, though you perhaps only realize that when you find yourself gazing off into space lost in the ideas and the memories they bring to mind. This is an album that allows the listener to sit down, be quiet and think about some of the important things in life.
One of the things that makes this particular collection unique, even for Blue Highway, is that, with the exception of one traditional song (“Nobody’s Fault But Mine”) and a couple collaborations, the band members have had a hand in writing the material. And if there is a remarkable maturity to their playing and interpreting skills, the same can certainly be said of their writing. There is some regret in here, an awareness that things can be difficult (“Storm”) and some reflection on the bittersweetness of time passing (“Bluebird Days”). “If You’ve Got Something to Say” recognizes that not all love stories have happy endings, while “Drinking From a Deeper Well” recognizes the wisdom that can come from experience.
Ultimately these are songs about real people, and about ideas that, in keeping with the title, hit very close to home. While other bands may be singing of high drama — murder ballads, drunken fights — Blue Highway sing about things that they know well. In listening to them we find that we do too.
Concert review: The Head and the Heart and Abigail Washburn make the Duck Room swoon, Monday, June 13
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of folk wisdom, it was the age of rock recklessness. It was the epoch of…OK, you get the point. It was the Head and the Heart‘s night.
Or nearly. The Seattle sextet should be on top of the planet, vaulting from Ballard neighborhood open mics to slaying Bonnaroo and Sasquatch! in less than two years. Judging by the sold-out crowd that sang along at the Duck Room last night, the band’s self-titled release on Sub Pop is on every eco-earnest kid’s lips. And then, what do you figure, Pitchfork gives the record a 3.8, which is the equivalent of warning that the CD hosts Escherichia coli. Such dressings-down were bound to happen to a band that is both bursting with talent and rising faster than any folksters should.
Down at a post-Twangfest Duck Room, a mostly young (as in under 30) crowd pushed to the stage as Abigail Washburn started the night off. Safe to say the stray Bonnaroo dudes flashing their wristbands weren’t quite ready for Washburn’s precision and charm. She slayed them, and me, opening with the mesmerizing frailing of her banjo on the title track to the remarkable City of Refuge, an album that, like her show, experiments with fusing, really fusing, old time country music with expressionistic indie rock. It’s a wholly successful effort, on stage and on record, owing in large part to songwriter and guitarist Kai Welch and an unimpeachable band, not that one would expect anything less from the spouse of Béla Fleck and the former leader of Uncle Earl.
Washburn is funny and smart and fluent in Chinese. She showed that off by translating a shout from the crowd “The Robots are coming!” and then singing a dazzling ballad in Mandarin and also signing CDs with precise calligraphy. The sound from the stage was focused like a light through a prism, intense and varied and beautiful. The song “Chains” deserves to be a hit — if only banjos really were as cool as a show like this makes them seem.
Having seen the Head and the Heart once before — at Lance Armstrong’s bike shop in Austin for SXSW — I had an inkling of the band’s exuberance. The record barely captures the palpable pleasure in the six musician’s own sincerity and good fortune. They’re playing their first show in St. Louis on a Monday night, it’s sold out and this crowd doesn’t read Pitchfork. They can’t believe it either, but the band illustrates on nearly all the selections from their sole album to date, why it may actually be more than a flash-in-the-indiegrass-pan.
With three sharply distinct singers arrayed across the front, each a wailer in his and her own way, and a loud and muscular rhythm section, plus piano lines straight out of the Zombies’ playbook, the band’s sound isn’t exactly unheard-of, but it doesn’t need to be. They commune genuinely on stage and numbers like “Sounds Like Hallelujah” and “Ghosts” find an élan vital that surpasses mere youth. It’s the feeling of good pop music running through everything they do, even on the most folksy numbers “Down in the Valley” and “Rivers and Roads,” the band sweats and strums and harmonizes as if it will never get another chance. “River and Roads” is especially powerful, with violinist and singer Charity Thielen laying into a climactic line like a maxi-dressed banshee.
When it came time for an encore after an all-too-quick set — remember, the band has only one album, and hasn’t had time to brush up on covers; hint: any Paul Simon song will do — Jon Russell returned with his Martin guitar and sang a country-flavored ballad solo, before the band broke into its first single, “Lost in my Mind,” and resumed capturing that feeling you can’t fake: Happiness. It’s a folk and pop thing.