Darrell Scott: A Crooked Road

Videos by American Songwriter


A Crooked Road


[Rating: 4 stars]

It’s hardly surprising that Darrell Scott would need some time for himself and his music, considering how much writing and playing he does with and for others. One of his latest gigs is with Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, alongside other Americana A-listers like Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin, and last year he toured with Steve Earle’s Bluegrass Dukes. It’s well established that Scott’s songs appeal to mainstream country acts with taste, an obvious example being the Dixie Chicks’ version of his “Long Time Gone.” And artists the caliber of Patty Loveless, Brad Paisley and Kathy Mattea have adopted his ballad of coal mining and desperation, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.”

A Crooked Road, though, is about as solitary as it gets; everything on here is written, played and produced by Scott—or, to be more precise, all but three of the 20 tracks written by Scott alone, and the remaining three are co-written. It’s also a decisive return to original material after his 2008 covers set Modern Hymns.

Scott is a romantic songwriter, the sort who frequently turns his gaze inward, lets himself get swept up in emotion and sensuality, and explores the state of the soul beneath those emotions. On A Crooked Road, he applies that approach to taking stock of his journey through adulthood, especially the relationships. Scott employs the poetic language of loving, dreaming and longing—quite literally, as those are the recurring images at the heart of a lot of these songs—and delivers it by way of robust, churning Anglo-Celtic folk-pop melodies and an ardent, soulful vocal attack, whether over a melodic fingerstyle guitar figure, or an eruption of organ-stoked country-rock.

“Take Me Back To Yesterday” grows from lean, bluesy, bruised beginnings into the latter; it feels like Scott dug up the guitar lick from the same deep-down place as the song. He plunges himself into the pained pleasure of memory, even as he finds the original moments to be forever lost to him, and harbors not one bit of regret at having felt them in the first place.

There are—as there are bound to be in a batch of 20 songs—a few lesser ones, and here and there a moment verging on self-indulgence. The most eloquent is “Candles In the Rain (Childless Mothers),” elevated to gospel heights by Scott’s multi-part harmonizing. Against intertwining acoustic guitar and mandolin, he sings from a woman’s perspective—a woman no less free-spirited and passion-driven, for good or ill, than he is: “Childless mothers don’t need pity/Childless mothers don’t need blame/No, we beg our own pardons and rake our rock gardens/and carry on past the need to explain.”

In the sweeping, modern folk song “The Day Before Thanksgiving,” Scott’s philosophizing ranges from narratives of nationhood that produce feelings of entitlement to visions of success that produce the same, with Thanksgiving dinner as a clever backdrop; he can’t stomach—much less stay within the lines of—any of it.

Which is the point, really. In the title track—which might’ve been musically inspired by the Beatles’ “Blackbird”—and everywhere else, Scott is clearly and purposefully not describing the straight and narrow path, but the twisting, turning path of going with his gut. As he puts it, “The bad news and the good news is I love with all my heart.” And that can take a person just about anywhere.


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