Darrell Scott walked onstage last night at Willie’s Locally Known with zero sense of ceremony. Performing without a band, he strapped on an electric guitar and casually test drove a few licks with a sensibility far jazzier than what we might expect out of such a championed Americana stylist. Then the tune veered into swing and the groove, still decidedly jazzy, became more fluid. The packed house slowly began to realize Scott wasn’t soundchecking and curtailed its chatter. What resulted was a summery invitation called “Head South,” the first tune from the first album (1997’s “Aloha From Nashville”) released by the Eastern Kentucky native.
But any seasonal sentiment darkened with the two songs that followed — a stirring and still harrowing “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” steeped in sturdy blues and empowered by the startlingly natural guitar play that distinguished the rest of the two hour concert, and a considerably more reflective “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The latter served as a dual eulogy for Texas songsmith and longtime friend Guy Clark, who died a year ago Wednesday, and Chris Cornell, who Scott shared a recording session with. He died two days ago.
All that came just within the first 20 minutes of the performance.
The rest of the evening was devoted to a loose-fitting array of songs with vivid folk and storytelling imagery colored by extended, intricate exhibitions on electric and acoustic guitar that enforced the fact Scott remains as potent an instrumentalist as he is a songwriter.
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Several of his compositions possessed a gorgeous simplicity, but perhaps none more so than the title tune to 2010’s “A Crooked Road” album. Dressed with a melody that initially suggested The Beatles’ “Blackbird” (“if you steal, steal from the best”), the tune quickly revealed a more markedly wistful lyricism that gently supported the worldly but affirmative feel of the narrative (“I see the straight and narrow when I walk a crooked road”).
From the other side of the road came a ghostly reading of Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man,” where Scott’s voice would rise like an incantatory yodel and then fade like the “old train rollin’ down the line” depicted in the song’s opening verse.
Scott turned to fretless banjo for the finale, a version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” summoning a light, antique feel that merged the performance’s generations of sounds and style into a sing-a-long full of back porch intimacy.