After Darrell Scott spent a year and a half on the road in someone else's band, it should come as no surprise that he would release an album informed by the inspirations of home.
By that, we mean not only Scott's literal home, even though his Nashville living room served as the makeshift recording studio for his new album, Long Ride Home. The spirit goes deeper than that. The recording, Scott's first after a lengthy tour as a multi- instrumentalist in Robert Plant's Band of Joy, also brings to mind an unshakable Kentucky spirit.
He has lived in California, Illinois and Michigan, eventually garnering a reputation as one of Nashville's most respected writers. Patti Loveless, Keb' Mo', Faith Hill, the Dixie Chicks and Brad Paisley, whose version of Scott's You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive was used in the first two season finales of the Kentucky-set TV series Justified, are among the notables who have covered his songs. But the London-born Scott, 52, sees a Kentucky muse resonating generously throughout his new album — and in all of his music, for that matter.
"I hope it does," Scott said by phone last week from Nashville. "I hope it always does. I guess it's one of those things you become more aware of as you get older.
"Kentuckians are very proud, as you know. But sometimes in your life you can be outnumbered," he said. "You learn to be quiet about certain things that you think you're supposed to be quiet about. For example, I remember distinctly being on a fifth-grade playground in California and someone asking me, 'What kind of music do you listen to?' Well, guess what I didn't say? I didn't say country music. I said Three Dog Night or Chicago or Elton John or whatever.
"There is a point where you try to outrun your past sometimes. And then there comes a point where you turn back to it and become proud of your heritage, your culture, the foods you grew up on, the stories you were told, the people who told them, your church upbringing, your family and certainly your music. So I've had that thread in me."
Perhaps the most obvious Kentucky presence on Long Ride Home comes during Hopkinsville, a slice of boot-scooting country fun with a serious narrative undertow. It tells of a Kentucky laborer who takes a bridge construction job in Nashville but continually dreams of home.
"We have this bridge here is Nashville called the Shelby Street Bridge. I'm not even sure when it was built. But I just started imagining some of the workers that welded that thing," Scott said. "I imagined a young guy from Hopkinsville working in Nashville on that bridge for however long but always longing for that one-way seat to get back home. So the Kentucky thing is still working on me for sure."
A mix of veteran Nashville studio aces — pianist Hargus "Pig" Robbins, pedal steel guitarist Lloyd Greene and drummer Kenny Malone — along with some all-star Americana contemporaries — Rodney Crowell, John Cowan, Tim O'Brien and Band of Joy mate Patty Griffin — helped flesh out Long Ride Home. The recording is a direct contrast to 2010's A Crooked Road, for which Scott sang and played every song on his own.
Another guest on Long Ride Home was his father, Wayne Scott, an Eastern Kentucky native who moved the Scott family to Detroit, Chicago and eventually the West Coast in search of work. Though invested with a lifelong love of country songs, he didn't pursue music in any professional sense until his children were grown. Darrell produced Wayne's first and only album, This Weary Way, in 2005.
The elder Scott joined his son onstage for a sold-out performance at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort last April. A few months later, after recording sessions wound down on Long Ride Home and post-production work was wrapping up, the younger Scott dedicated the recording to a less obvious but equally powerful influence from home — his mother, Evelyn Jeree Gilbert, who died during the summer.
"My dad gets a lot of deserved credit for the musicality in my background. But my mom had great amounts of country music influence that my dad didn't. My dad was all about Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Merle Haggard. Those were his heroes. My mom was more into Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette — a whole different thread of country music. Long Ride Home has as much or more of my mom's classic country music taste in it as my dad's."
Scott knew his mother's death was at hand when work on Long Ride Home was finished. Not so with his father. In November, Wayne Scott died in an automobile accident in Corbin.
"Of course, I had no way of knowing that just a few months later my dad would also pass," Scott said. "There was no way to foresee that. I just left the album credits as they were.
"Like a lot of Kentuckians, my family moved to the factory working world of Chicago steel mills and Detroit car factories. But I'll always have a proud place for Kentucky. I get it culturally and musically. You couldn't help it when you grew up with my parents. You couldn't be more Kentucky than my mom and dad."