Lately I've gotten a lot of Americana records that are mopey, dreamy, sensitive, meaningful and overwrought with heartfelt plaint and artsy-fartsy visionary insight. Or worse, they look at you earnestly and say, "I'm an artist; therefore I'm purer than thou. Let me set the rest of you straight with my political psychobabble." Most of it is well meant but terribly pretentious and -- the biggest sin of all -- seriously lacking in licks. Passable playing seems to be the rule of the day.
All of which makes Darrell Scott's live recording such a delight. Scott just may be the most talented guy in Nashville these days. His songs are every bit as good as those of Steve Earle, John Prine or writing partner/sometimes bandmate Guy Clark; his voice is stout as a garlic milk shake; and when he lays into a Les Paul or a vintage Martin, sparks fly like an automatic welding machine gone berserk.
Scott flows easily from country to jazz to funk, often all in the course of an extended jam with his superstar sidemen, bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Kenny Malone. The set list features ripping renditions of "River Take Me" and the extraordinary "Miracle of Living" from Theater of the Unheard, while "Helen of Troy, PA" is an exquisitely titled song about a young man's encounter with a wise hooker. And the title of the bleary lowdown blues number "It's the Whiskey that Eases the Pain" from 1997's Aloha from Nashville says about all you need to know about that tune.
But the real ear-poppers are Scott's steroidal, jazzified interpretation of "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," his poignant, fresh take on Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" and his medley featuring Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and Townes Van Zandt's classic "White Freightliner Blues." In Americana, it doesn't get any better than this. Live in NC is certain to make numerous year-end top ten lists and enhance Darrell Scott's reputation as one of the baddest cats in Nashville. Or anywhere.
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