Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Darrell Scott - A Crooked Road (disc one)


Last week, there was no album review, and instead, there were two For a Song posts. Darrell Scott’s new one, A Crooked Road, is the album I wanted to review. A Crooked Road is a two disc set with almost an hour and a half of music, and it was impossible for me to find the time to listen to the whole thing on Halloween weekend, which is always a busy time in my house. Finally, late last week, I found the time. And I discovered that each of the two discs in A Crooked Road has a distinct character to it. Roughly speaking, disc one is the folk album and disc two is the rock album. That’s an oversimplification, but the point is, I decided to review each disc separately. So here is my review of disc one, and the next post will be disc two. This week, then, there will be no For a Song post. It is my policy to post two songs from each album I review, so the review of each disc will only have one song each.

Each disc of A Crooked Road contains ten songs, including two brief instrumentals. The songs on disc one feature either acoustic guitar or piano in the arrangements, with other instruments supporting them. The credits on the album don’t identify the other instruments, indicating only that all songs are “performed” by Darrell Scott. That might mean that Scott plays all of the instruments, but I’m pretty sure that I hear female background vocals in at least a couple of places, so perhaps there are other musicians on the album as well. On disc one, there are drums and electric bass in a couple of places, but also banjo and mandolin. A couple of songs have what I believe is an accordion, but it is played in an unusual way, using mostly the lower keys to set up a bass drone. Only one song, Take Me Back to Yesterday, uses no acoustic instruments that I could tell. This song comes in the middle of disc one, and breaks the mood to powerful effect. The electric instruments are played in what I would call an acoustic way, with minimal distortion, and no screaming lead lines.

Darrell Scott proves himself to be a flexible singer. He often uses the low end of his baritone range, and goes for a breathy sound. But he knows how and when to use a fuller voice, and when to sing higher in his range, and this allows him to be a very expressive singer without ever getting strident.

I reviewed Scott‘s last album, Modern Hymns, and that was an album of covers, and my introduction to his work. So A Crooked Road is my introduction to Scott’s songwriting. All of the songs on both discs are originals, including three cowrites. On disc one, Scott proves himself to a wonderful storyteller. The title track opens A Crooked Road. Each verse and chorus of the song includes slight changes in the lyrics from the verse and chorus before. Scott uses this technique to trace the arc of a relationship, from first meeting to old age. It works beautifully. Elsewhere, Scott uses more conventional lyrical structures, but the storytelling works just as well. As a father myself, I was particularly moved by A Father’s Song. The father in this case is a touring musician who must find the balance between his career and his desire to be with his children. Candles in the Rain (Childless Mothers) is a cowrite with Suzy Ragsdale, and seems to be told from a woman’s point of view. Scott gives a wonderful performance here that really brings his narrator to life. For Suzanne, the song I decided to feature, is a song that Scott wrote by himself, and it starts from an amazing concept: what would happen if Scott met the Suzanne that Leonard Cohen and other songwriters have written about? Scott describes a brief passionate affair that leaves him concerned about her, and still very much in love. He introduces the song by letting us know that sees her differently than others have, and his words bear that out. This is the song, for me, that shows Darrell Scott to be a songwriter with a wonderful imagination. The arrangements is simple, with mostly just guitar and accordion, and it too is perfect.

Disc one of A Crooked Road could easily stand on its own, and it’s a wonderful album. I’ll have my review of disc two later this week. Stay tuned.

Darrell Scott: For Suzanne