The instrumental virtuoso at the heart of Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy has plenty to say for himself, in fact 2 CD’s worth of prime Americana.
Darrell Scott may be a new name to many here but in the 2010 configuration of Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy, he’s the instrumental powerhouse and is part of the current world wide tour. Neatly coincidental is this sumptuous feast of a double disc set that proves he’s not only a great player, but also a great writer. Given that he’s penned hits for the likes of the high profile country stars Faith Hill and The Dixie Chicks, it’s perhaps unsurprising. But more tellingly he’s also collaborated with the like Steve Earl, Guy Clark, Emmylou, Kate Rusby, Tim O’Brien and Jimmie Dale Gilmore and so doesn’t want for a single half ounce of musical credibility. Whether you like your country mainstream or alt. Darrell is the man. Oh, and he plays and sings the whole, damn, stunning double disc set on his own.
In fairness either one of these discs should be sufficient to convince of Darrell’s astonishing talent and you can start with either, although as the title is derived from disc one track one, logic dictates its first in the player. If first impressions count, then the fleet fingerwork, layered acoustic guitars and Darrell’s rich vocal tones are as inviting as they come, you feel instantly at ease in his company . It’s disarming and almost confessional, as if Darrell is somehow confiding in you while his fingers dance across the frets with what come across a gleeful ease and confidence. As the instruments are built up in layers so the subtle complexities unfold.
The intimate air continues as The Day Before Thanksgiving starts with just Darrell’s voice telling us “I’m not feeling much of thanks, just a low grade desperation leaves me reeling in the ranks.” Once again the layers build, with drums, pedal steel and mandolin all equally under Darrell’s spell, as he refuses to accept the status quo and explains, “lines were meant for crossing, I was born to crack the code.”
He cleverly shifts the instrumental focus through the tracks too, with banjo leading Long Wide Open Road and Piano for the beautifully poignant Father’s Song. The latter finds a man questioning his priorities as travelling artist and father, happily, however, there seems to be some resolution. His words are strong enough to carry such emotional weight without sinking into mawkish morass and there’s real substance to these songs, with the closing trio from disc one being as good as they get. Candles In The Rain, For Suzanne and The Open Door and probably worth the price of this CD on their own. The middle one in particular is clever… “She been written in song by the greatest of names, Stephen Foster, Leonard Cohen and Sweet Baby James, but I’ve got the feeling this won’t be the same, my love song for Suzanne…” It’s also something that any of the three named would have been immensely proud of and rightly so. But then the Celtic lilt and the call of the west and Montana that concludes disc one is almost impossibly gorgeous.
You may well feel the need to pause here, but press on, it’s well worth it. Each of the tracks on disc two is the equal of those on the first and as suggested, you could easily start here with the same satisfaction. The distinction is that the second set is a might more amped up. The pairing of the minor epic Colorado and Where The Spirit Meets The Bone for example is certainly heading that way. After a minor instrumental interlude (one of four across the two discs), the wonderfully titled Snow Queen And Drama Llama certainly crunches rather than caresses. Whilst that might speak volumes about his Plant partnering potential, once again the writing is a cut above, his literary background is obvious, his gift for melody becomes more pronounced with each listen, especially as the last five songs, start to unwind the tensions of the icy maiden and her overwrought animal with grace and eloquence. Any of them is a highlight, even the (mostly) instrumental Willow Creek.
It’s easy to see, amped our otherwise, why The Band Of Joy should require his services but the temptation to find out more about that star vehicle has come from realising what an absolute star Darrell Scott is. Admittedly the 80 minutes here is sumptuous fare of banquet proportions, but an elegant solution suggests itself… Day one disc one, day two disc two… repeat at will.
We gave you a video of the tile track the other day that you can link back to here, but I’ve also added this to show that it takes a room full of people to recreate what Darrell did (albeit with the aid of multi-tracking) on his own on the album.