Darrell Scott’s Crooked Road
Darrell Scott released a new album with his old buddy, Tim O’Brien, this month. It’s the third in three years for the Nashville songwriter who has become more prolific the older he gets.
The album has been in the vaults for six years since he recorded benefit shows in Asheville, N.C. in 2005 and 2006. “That’s the thing,” Scott says from the road. “A big part of it is I have more material than I’m able to put out. I’m just trying to catch up with the work that’s already passing through me. I’m not trying to make a big splash at this age. I’m 53. I’m just trying to honor the music. It would seem a shame to have work in me and it not be recorded or documented.”
Scott describes his superb 2010 double disc, “A Crooked Road,” as a sort of taking stock. One after the other, the songs hit close to home, about family, history, travel, and love. Scott not only wrote all 19 cuts, he played every instrument. “Playing and singing everything seemed to be an appropriate way to look at that,” he adds. “I probably won’t ever do it again that way.”
He says he took some time when he turned 50 to think about the years he had left. “That was an important number to me to say who are you, what are you doing, what’s important to you at 50?” he says. “What I came up with is I’m very much alive and there’s a lot more music in me.”
As the album hit the streets, Scott faced a tough choice. Robert Plant asked him to join his Band of Joy with Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin. Or he could tour supporting his solo album, which Scott paid for and released on his own label, something he’s done for a decade.
“It was a hard decision, but I made the decision to play with a really cool band, ” he says. “Robert is fantastic. Buddy Miller was great. Singing harmony with Patty Griffith and Robert Plant was sheer joy.” He ended up on the road for 13 months with the crew.
Scott adds that he’s learned to accept whatever any one record does, knowing there will be another. In fact, there have been two this year. Earlier, he issued “Long Ride Home,” his homage to country before Garth, a collection straight out country tunes, a couple that he wrote at 16 with his father, Wayne Scott, a musician, in a rented cabin on California’s Big Bear Lake.
O’Brien, along with John Cowan, Patty Griffin, and Guy Clark join him on the disc.
In fact, Tim O’Brien shows up on most of Scott’s recordings, going back to their days writing together in Nashville in the 1990s and their 2000 disc of duets.
Their live album documents two benefit shows for the Arthur Morgan School in Asheville, where each had children attending at the time. The disc features 13 cuts including covers of songs by Townes Van Zandt, Lefty Frizzell, Hand Williams, Gordon Lightfoot, and Keith Whitley. They met when their Nashville publishers
did what Nashville publishers do — encourage two songwriters to work together and see what emerges. Scott calls is “mixing cocktails.” “They hit it really well by putting the two of us together,” he notes.
Their first joint venture, “Daddy’s On the Roof Again” showed up first on O’Brien’s next record. Their second, also recorded by O’Brien for a solo disc, did a little better. “When There’s No One Around” became a cut on Garth Brooks’ chart-topping album, “Sevens.”
“The truth is there is some kind of synergy when Tim and I get together,” Scott says. “It happened as songwriters. It has happened as players and supporters of each other.”
Live, he says, they egg each other on even though they often take the stage without rehearsing. “We’re fearless,” he says. “We don’t know musical fear. It’s not really in us…It’s one of those things that should work, but it does.”
Scott says his attitude is that playing music is not a big deal, not a fixed thing. “It’s this moving, alive thing,” he explains. “Music is alive and in the moment.”
So he didn’t try to hide the mistakes and looseness on the live disc. “That’s just part of live music,” he adds.
Scott moves easily from playing in a band to playing in a trio (which he’ll do the night of our interview) to playing solo, which he’ll do at The Attucks Theater. The show in Norfolk will be one of his last for ten months. He pulled out a calendar recently, wondering why he was always so tired, and figured that he’s spent half of each of the last three years on the road. So he’ll hunker down in Nashville, write some songs, and work on yet another album. It’s what he’s been doing since he moved there 20 years ago after an odyssey that took him from Kentucky, where he was born, to Gary, Indiana, where his family moved when he was one. Eventually, Scott moved to Boston, attended a community college and then got into Tufts University.
He’d been playing out for years. His father, after all, wrote songs and played while holding down a day job. The music scene — and the folk scene — was in full force in Boston at the time, but Scott partook as an observer, not a performer, earning his degree in English. After Tufts, he hung around Boston for four years, working on his songwriting and playing live. He credits the scene with sending him on his way to become the writer he is today.
“There was a particular thing that happened going to school and being involved and filled with all that culture,” he says. “It really changed my songwriting. My songwriting approach changes from before Boston and after Boston. I found my writer’s voice. I found then I knew where I was going, back into original music..”
Darrell Scott at The Attucks Theater, Nov. 15. For tickets, go to www.discoverymusicseries.com.