Recording information: Room & Board; The Pleasure Palace; Zen Masters.
Illustrator: Bob Delevante.
Darrell Scott has managed a balancing act that other Nashville songwriters must be envious of. He's written a sizable number of blockbusters that have been cut by artists like the Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, and Garth Brooks without ever sacrificing the quality of his melodies or the literary approach he takes to his lyrics. His music may be found in the country bin, but he's got a jazzy approach to his playing and elements of folk, blues, and gospel are just as likely to surface in his music. He worked on the 17 songs and four instrumental pieces on this two-CD set for almost two years, mostly recording in his home studio. A noted session player, Scott made this album by himself, overdubbing guitar, baritone guitar, lap steel, keyboards, electric and standup bass, harp, bouzouki, banjolin, harmonium, pedal steel, mandolin, cello, glockenspiel, drums, and various percussion instruments. The instruments he didn't know how to play when he started recording he learned, or faked through clever overdubbing. The songs here all address relationships, but they're grownup relationships that have to deal with separation, compromise, divorce, and reconciliation as well as the joys of intimacy. Most clock in about the four-minute mark, but they never sound like they've overstayed their welcome and most reveal hidden depths of feeling and insight with repeated listening.
The set opens with the title track, a sad song full of poetic reflections on the path of true love that only runs smooth in retrospect. Scott's guitar playing and the melody hint at George Harrison at his most spiritual, a perfect blend of pop, folk, and blues. Scott's vocals here, and throughout the set, are wistful, an almost whispered tone that's all the more commanding for its quiet power. "The Day Before Thanksgiving" is the album's most cynical song and conflates the lies our country was founded upon with the lies the average man tells himself to get through the day. Scott's gospel-flavored piano introduces "A Father's Song," which takes on the hardships of a musician's life on the road without dipping into clich‚s, while "Take Me Back to Yesterday" is a quiet, desperate blues lamenting lost love and missed opportunities. Scott's not afraid of taking risks, either. Calling a song "For Suzanne" and name-checking Leonard Cohen, Stephen Foster, and James Taylor in the first verse takes a lot of nerve, but he lives up to the challenge with a song that implies Cohen in its lyric and Taylor in its melody without sounding like either singer. It's a quietly dramatic song with a powerful lyric augmented by dark sustained notes from Scott's accordion.
Disc two opens with "Love's Not Through with Me Yet," a jazzy prayer for true love that suggests the best way to find love is to love unselfishly. Scott's resolute vocal is full of quiet soul intensified by his fervent electric guitar work. "Snow Queen and Drama Lama" is a slight diversion, a '60s-style blues-folk-rocker marked by edgy surrealistic lyrics, snarling guitar, and Scott's abrasive vocal. The album ends with a pair of tunes that reaffirm the heart's determination to keep loving, despite the distress true love can bring. "This Time Around" uses Christian religious imagery, gospel piano, and churchy organ fills to deliver a message worth remembering -- when love breaks us open it teaches us to love more deeply. "This Beggars' Heart" is a elegy for a lost love full of wrenching, forlorn images. It could be addressing mortality just as well as the end of an affair, with Scott's distressing vocal sounding alternately hopeful and desperate. Scott's instrumentals are a bit lighter than his songs, adding a few rays of sunshine to the moody proceedings. "Prester Lester" and "Some Other Time" are jazzy, almost classical pieces of pastoral music, gentle melodies full of chiming guitar overtones, while the smooth banjo and slide guitar work on "Willow Creek" have a hint of gospel music. ~ j. poet