Feature

Darrell Scott: better late than ever

Hugh’s Room, Toronto
Wednesday, December 1st

It was a happy accident. In the audience to see his friend and musical collaborator Darrell Scott, Tony McManus was kind enough to open the show at 8:30 when news arrived that the headliner was somewhere between Nashville and (Air) Canada.

Somewhat apologetically, McManus took the stage to entertain the crowd until Darrell arrived. Believe me, McManus had no reason to apologize. The accomplished Scottish guitarist truly dazzled all in attendance with his masterful technique across 7 songs – a jig here and a reel there, singing on a few tracks including Richard Thompson’s “Pharoah”. His rendering of “Desert Dance” proved jaw-dropping and the instrumental “Wonderful World” seemed perfect for the occasion.

No sooner did a somewhat frazzled Darrell Scott mount the stage for a hurried sound-check than he ripped into a 14-song tour through his ground-breaking catalogue.

Billed as a highly successful singer-songwriter in country circles, he’s really much more than that – offering songs that go well beyond the usual drinking, cheating and hard times to explore the human heart and all its foibles. He’s got a bear-sized, warm, earthy voice with an incredible range and his instrumental skills are well-documented: Scott has played on almost everyone’s album you could think of – from Guy Clark to Martina McBride; Kate Rusby to Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Steve Earle.

Those folks who have chalked up sizeable fortunes from his songs include: Faith Hill, Dixie Chicks, Travis Tritt and Sara Evans. His musical schedule is mind-boggling and his session talents prove a talisman to high profile and aspiring artists alike.

As always, however, originals hit harder when sung by their originators and Scott mesmerized the crowd with heart-on-his-sleeve renderings of “Double-Headed Eagle”, “It’s the Whiskey That Eases the Pain” (originally performed and co-written with his inspirational father, Wayne) and, from his latest, “A Crooked Road”.

Touring through his original compositions, Scott projects much more than country in his music, introducing strong elements of folk, blues, bluegrass, gospel and jazz. In “River Take Me”, a song dedicated to the Nashville flood, Scott attacks it with a driving rhythms, adding a jazz-like guitar technique as the song changes direction many times, as if carried by the raging waters itself. “Day After Day”, co-written with Gordon Heins, is driven by rocking chords and a hip-shaking rhythm as Scott pours out his soul.

Joined by long-time friend, former band-mate and Ottawa resident Keith Snider (Scott spent much time in Ontario through the ‘80s) on fiddle,  Scott addressed his Dixie Chicks’ blockbuster. “Long Time Gone”, followed by his “Ol’ Joe Clark”, the combination of fiddle and guitar tastefully upgrading Sam Bush’s version.

The most eye-opening demonstration of his talents occurred behind the piano. Opening the show with “Looking Glass” (from ‘06’s Invisible Man), his piano playing reinforcing its delicate lyrics as his earthy, resonant voice cut deep, rich swaths beyond the stage.

Another piano-backed song touching on the sacrifice of life on the road, “A Father’s Song”, hit hard with its powerful notion of “This message, too, is brought to you by Abe and Gay and Mahala-Ann” (his children). The oddly-named “The Man Who Could Have Played Bass for Shanana” proved another exceptional vehicle for Scott’s meaty baritone. While Tony McManus joined Scott for “The River And Me”, displaying both artist’s abilities to embellish each other’s work, followed by Snider’s return for a world- weary take on the traditional “Wayfaring Pilgrim”, it was the encore selection that drove home Scott’s ability to bring it all together as a solo performer – devoid of the complex, multi-layered production caliber of his 7 solo releases with their Who’s Who cast of guests and session players.

“This Beggar’s Heart” – back on piano – approximated a hymnal, with its deep-set sense of intimacy and the heartfelt, confessional nature of its lyric. A second standing ovation confirmed that there was nothing more that needed saying.

Without question, few could say it any better.

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