For an artist whose songs and musicianship have been so in demand by a legion of fellow performers, Darrell Scott sure enjoys keeping to himself on his newest album.
Look back at the career of the acclaimed Kentucky-born Scott and you will discover a player who has lent his considerable instrumental talents to tours and performances to such stylistically diverse players as Joan Baez, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bill Frisell and Steve Earle. The predominantly country roster of acts that have cut Scott's songs include Brad Paisley, the Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill and fellow Kentuckian Patty Loveless.
In July, Scott will take to the road for perhaps his highest-profile collaboration yet as a member of an all-star Americana band assembled to back up ex-Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant.
For now, though, Scott is the ultimate solo act. His new album, A Crooked Road, is a spacious 20-song, two-disc set. He wrote or co-wrote all of the music, produced the record, played every note of every song and even shot the scrapbook of self-portrait photos on the inside of the CD sleeve.
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"I always wanted to make a record where I played everything," said Scott, who performs Monday for WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. "It's just funny that it's taken this long to do it.
"The idea goes back to when I was 16 and I got my first four-track reel-to-reel recorder. I would spend hours, days, weeks just mesmerized by the idea of overdubbing to myself. That's where I got the recording bug.
"As far as the writing goes, these songs are pretty well what I want to say at this time in my life. I've turned 50 but still have that juju in me. The songs and music are still passing through me."
There is an intimacy and sparseness to many of the tunes on A Crooked Road, although that shouldn't suggest in any way that the album is an emotionally muted work. The Day Before Thanksgiving is a tale of self-described "low-grade desperation" that recalls vintage Earle music. When the Spirit Meets the Bone is a modern-day serenade of modern strings that employs acoustic, electric, pedal steel and bass guitars. Two piano ballads, the Bruce Hornsby-style Open Door and the starker, family-themed A Father's Song further stretch A Crooked Road's lyrical, literary and emotional boundaries.
"Everything contributes to the process," Scott said. "I bring in every tool that I possibly have at any given time. The arranger, the player, the singer, the harmonizer, the lead guitarist, the background this or that — these are the tools in my toolbox.
"But the most important part of the songwriting process is the inspiration. Without that, songs are just clever stuff on paper. Songs have to have heart, soul and the whole human expression."
Those also are tools that Scott will have at the ready when he begins touring with Plant in a band that includes fellow Americana greats Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Byron House and Marco Giovano. The ensemble has already recorded an album, Band of Joy, which is due out in September. The July dates make up merely the first leg of a tour that will continue this fall.
"The word I would use to describe the whole collaboration is 'organic' — both musically and how the whole project came to be.
"We started off with getting the core band together with Robert, with the only intention being, 'Let's see what happens.' There were no expectations. But after about 15 minutes of playing together, Robert and Buddy suggested we get to our microphones and start recording instead of just rehearsing and running songs.
"My sense is that the album we made feels really good. I know Robert is proud of it. So we're taking the album band on the road to play these songs. But we're also retooling some Zeppelin stuff and adding some songs that are kind of in between all that. We'll even be playing some stuff that predates Zeppelin."
Although bound for Zeppelin-ville, Scott's crooked road began in Kentucky. He was born in London and spent part of his boyhood in Knox County before his parents went north in search of work.
"They went to see what work was available in Dearborn (Mich.) at the car factories and to the Chicago area to the steel mills. They were chasing economics as poor people do.
"My parents were the picture of tobacco-farming, coal-mining people, so I am definitely a son of Kentucky. The only way I could be more so would be if I still lived there."