What’s a few years when it comes to fashioning a great song? For Darrell Scott, letting some time slide when recording, completing and releasing music simply isn’t a problem. As evidence, the Kentucky native (born in London) cites his most recent album, “Couchville Sessions.”
On first listen, the record is in keeping with the best of Scott’s previous work. Its songs are expertly crafted, much in the quietly confessional yet proudly solemn, folk-informed manner that, in past years, fueled tunes like “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” That remains one of his best-known compositions. Initially a hit for fellow Kentuckian Patty Loveless, it was then cut by Brad Paisley, Dave Alvin and the Ruby Friedman Orchestra for versions featured in season-finale episodes of the Eastern Kentucky-set series “Justified.”
The tunes on “Couchville Sessions” are performed with a comfortable but scholarly instrumental command. That’s a reflection not just of the players on the record — veteran British bassist Danny Thompson, acclaimed pedal and lap steel guitarist Dan Dugmore, and drummer Kenny Malone — but of Scott himself. He plays guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, dobro and even vibraphone on the recording. Such dexterity won him a 2010 spot in Robert Plant’s Band of Joy and, more recently, dual roles as show opener and auxiliary instrumentalist in the Zac Brown Band. Scott will devote much of 2017 to touring with the popular country music ensemble.
But the element of time in the “Couchville” songs surfaces with the revelation that the album was released in 2016, but the songs were predominantly recorded 15 years earlier. It wasn’t until he crossed paths with Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne that Scott found the missing musical accent to add to recordings initially cut with Thompson, Dugmore and Malone.
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“I’m funny about recordings and songs,” said Scott, who performs a solo concert Thursday at Willie’s Locally Known. “I never put out records made up of the last songs that I wrote and then call that my latest album. I understand that’s probably a pretty standard way to do it. But it never occurred to me to do that. So to me, doing a record that started 14 or 15 years ago doesn’t matter to me at all. The songs don’t feel old.
“Songs don’t have a shelf life — at least, the songs that I’m interested in don’t. They don’t expire. For example, I did an album called “Long Ride Home” and released it when I was in my early 50s. I had two songs from when I was 16 years old on it. Whether it was written 30 years ago or 15 years ago or five years ago doesn’t matter. To me, they’re good songs.”
The passage of 15 years might not have left a mark on the songs that make up “Couchville Sessions,” but it has unavoidably affected the people who recorded the music. Among the guest artists on the record is Guy Clark, the cherished Texas-turned-Tennessee songwriter who died a year ago this week. Clark’s frail but sage voice turns up at the end of the opening tune, “Down to the River,” to spin a spoken-word yarn about two crows feasting on baby rattlesnakes in a windmill nest they made out of barbed wire. “It only takes two to make a murder of crows,” Clark says with sly reverence.
“The recitation at the end of that song. … I always had that in mind, to have Guy Clark speaking on it. I didn’t know what he would say. All I knew was I needed to hear Guy Clark’s voice at that section. So I went to his house the summer before he passed away, and we recorded him just talking for a couple of hours. Neither of us were sure what he should say or any of that stuff or any direction. Then of a sudden, he just got real focused and dramatic and started speaking what you hear at the end of that song. He just came out with that story about the two crows. It was perfect.”
Scott plans a little more time-tripping with his next album: a live record cut in 2009 at Nashville’s Station Inn. Due out this summer, the project underscores another attribute of his music. Not only is he unconcerned with how much time lapses between when a song is recorded and when it is released, but he is unwilling to follow an artistic flight plan dictating that styles and genres remain constant from one album to the next. The forthcoming album, true to form for the Station Inn’s reputation as a prized bluegrass club, will be a bluegrass record.
“And after that, I kind of hear doing a more produced kind of record. I wouldn’t call it pop, but more of a pop-rock approach to a record,” Scott says. “I don’t really follow a particular anything. I like to go from a bluegrass album to more of a rock record and folk record. I like to move around and not really be stuck doing one single thing over and over and be known just for that. I’d rather be a moving target.”
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.