Darrell Scott sounds like America

Darrell Scott
Jammin’ Java
Vienna, VA
March 15, 2012



Darrell Scott took the stage in a big, oversized flannel shirt, longish, brown hair and a goatee that was one-part biker’s fu manchu, one part Santa Claus. A piano and two microphones waited for him in front of the capacity crowd at Vienna, VA’s Jammin’ Java. He had his guitar in hand.

Scott jumped right, in playing, “No Use Living For Today” off of his new album Long Ride Home. In fact, the show was his CD release party, or as he explained, the first show in the area since his new album had come out.

He transitioned stunningly from “No Use” into “Miracle of Living,” a beautiful song about searching for freedom where you think it can be found, and both losing, and finding, yourself in the process.

Some musicians have fans: people that check them out when they are in town, pick up their albums, and listen to their music. And then there are those special musicians who don’t so much have fans as they do extended family waiting for them in every town.

Scott falls into the latter category. He tells stories and cracks jokes, and the crowd — silent during the music — joins right in on the conversation. He is that distant cousin or favorite uncle, fresh off the road, with news of his travels and captivating stories to tell. Once upon a time, the people would have gathered around a campfire to listen. Today they gather in front of the stage.

Darrell Scott is a master of the acoustic guitar. He doesn’t just play two guitar parts at once; he incorporates the sound of a full band into his music, using nothing but his six strings. He takes solos over his chord progressions, and runs bass lines and melodic riffs. He takes musical risks constantly, and they always seem to pay off.  His songs and his style are steeped in ancient traditions, and yet they know no bounds. A true master.

He played “For Suzanne,” a lovely and bittersweet ballad before introducing “Hopkinsville,” about a boy from a small town (Hopkinsville, KY) who sets out to find work. He is a welder and he finds himself in Nashville helping to build a bridge. The song is the boy’s lament to return home to the ones he left behind.

Scott told the audience that he grew up listening to country music in a time before mechanical bulls, Toby [Keith] or music videos. Or, as he cynically and comically explained it, before “props.” Back then, he continued, it was just poor people telling stories.

Later in the show, he continued his breakdown of country music. It’s stories about people drinking — not tailgating with a red, plastic cup, but drinking because something is wrong. And if they drank enough he concluded, they usually wound up cheating. Scott wanted to make an album that sounded like what he grew up on, so he hired the guys who played on those old albums that he loved so much. That is the story behind the sound of Long Ride Home.

Scott played several more songs throughout his first set, including “Someday” and “Too Close to Comfort,” the latter on piano. He brought out his lovely-voiced opener, Grace Pettis and they sang a stunning duet of Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” He closed out the set with the fun and upbeat singalong “It’s a Great Day to be Alive.” If he had closed the night right then, no one would have been disappointed, but he surprised everyone by announcing that he would be taking a set break and then coming back to play some more. No complaints from the crowd.

He opened the second set with a dobro on his lap, and informed the crowd that someone had brought it out, so he might as well play it. Darrell’s instrumental mastery is not limited to guitar. He played “Satisfied Mind,” his feature song from the recently completed 13-month tour with Robert Plant’s Band of Joy (he did not write the song, but sang it every night on their tour.) It is an old, and great, song about money not being able to buy happiness.

Scott then went back to the piano and played a particularly heartbreaking song of his, entitled “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” wherein he attempts to reanimate through song his great-grandfather, whose history has been intentionally erased by his family over the generations for some unnamed wrong committed 100 years ago. Then he brought Grace back out and the two of them ran through “Mountain Air is Always Free.”

He played “Passing,” about being stuck between two worlds and not being able to ever firmly plant your feet in either, and heplayed “Mahala,” a father’s lullaby about his daughter. Scott closed out the set with the group sing-along “Pay Lake,” before coming out and encoring with “This Beggar’s Heart.”

Darrell Scott delivered a great show, one that guaranteed that when he returned, his big extended family would be there, excited to hear his new tales from the road — both real and literary.