There’s something about Darrell Scott. This is quite a different proposition from the last album I reviewed that featured him. The formats are different – acoustic duo on that versus power trio on this – and generally this is more overt, predominantly electric, more contemporary and Scott fronts the proceedings by himself.
But there’s strong similarity as well in the feel of it, in the way that the top notch players are tight but also spontaneous, in the energy of the interplay between them. As I said of that album, and as I’ll say again here, “this is why we have live albums”.
So two live albums featuring Scott, and both times we get to make that observation.
Scott has an interesting multi-faceted career. He’s a successful songwriter, with some of his songs having been big hits for other acts, mostly in a musical area that we might think of as intelligent AOR/country (EG “Long Time Gone” which was a big hit for the Dixie Chicks). He’s also a very strong player on several instruments (catch his show stealing performance in Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy on their in concert DVD) and in demand for session work. And he also records and performs under his own name.
On this live disc (I actually have a hard copy!!!!) he teams up with two other very gifted musicians – and rightly shares the billing with them.
Kenny Malone is a top Nashville session drummer. I think we tend to think of LA as the great centre for studios and studio players, but Nashville is just as important and just as full of great players. Malone is one of the best, and probably one of those players who we’ve all heard many times on other people’s records.
Bass player Danny Thompson is a player of great experience, versatility and considerable technique with an inimitable sound and thrust to his playing. He has a long and varied CV that includes long and notable spells with the band Pentangle, as a sideman to Richard Thompson, in the house band at the famous Ronnie Scott’s club, and most famously of all with John Martyn. Though he’s a modest man who makes no claim to greatness and won’t allow such tags to be pinned upon him he is one of the giants of his instrument. He draws a distinction between “bass” and “bass guitar” and he plays bass.
Now forget all that (or the bits you didn’t already know)! If you didn’t know who these guys are before you start listening to this album you will soon want to. The excellence is apparent early on when Thompson and Malone work up a mighty, kinetic groove under Scott’s vocals and guitar on the opening “Miracle of Living”. And throughout the musicianship is of a high standard and is exciting.
The shows the album is assembled from were played in small venues in North Carolina. Scott produced and he’s kept the record sounding intimate. You can believe you’re sitting in a bar with a beer in your hand and this remarkable band not far away. The band has great dynamics (why not? They have great everything else) and the recording isn’t too compressed and so allows the music to “breathe”, the light and the shade are preserved.
Scott’s acoustic guitar playing is as skilled and as expressive as his electric playing. The third track “With A Memory Like Mine” (which was included on the live Scott/O’Brien album, but with a quite different arrangement) shows his fluid acoustic playing with the strings ringing most pleasingly. There’s a jazzy feel at times in Scott’s playing. Although he and Malone make their living in Nashville their range extends far beyond the musical genres that city is famous for.
The next track “River Take Me” is a first person narrative from a guy who’s having a bad time of it. Laid off and now the storms are in and the levee’s about to break. Scott’s back on electric and the band uses dynamic range to great effect as the song’s story unfolds. The playing from all three is constantly inventive. Malone gets a drum solo full of clever rhythmic tricks and which leads into a spoken passage from Scott. These sort of changes can be clumsy in some hands, but this band has (as they say in Nashville) finesse up the Wazoo. The track weighs in at 10:12, but you won’t get bored. Scott’s solos are strong without always being loud.
Scott switches back to acoustic for “Helen of Troy, Pennsylvania” which is another demonstration of how power and volume are not the same thing. And after several other fine performances they conclude with a brooding rendition of the old spiritual “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”.
In the late 60s the idea of the power trio arose in rock music. From Wikipedia: “A power trio is a rock and roll band format having a lineup of guitar, bass and drums, leaving out the rhythm guitar or keyboard that are used in other rock music to fill out the sound with chords. While one or more band members sing, power trios emphasize instrumental performance and overall impact over vocals and lyrics… a three-person band [could] have the same sonic impact as a large band but left far more room for improvisation and creativity, unencumbered by the need for detailed arrangements.”
And that’s what we have here: A power trio. A lot of the interest here results from having “more room for improvisation and creativity, unencumbered by the need for detailed arrangements.” The format leaves each player space to move, and they’re good enough (“enough”?) to take advantage of the space and have the taste to know when to leave the space be. They’re one of the best power trios you could hope to hear, delivering a performance full of inventive playing and genuine excitement.
AFAIK this was a short lived project. Neither Scott nor Thompson seem to me to happy to be stuck in a single groove, and all of them are in demand studio players who would have had very full appointment books. Scott and Thompson played a once off duo show in London a few years ago, but we shouldn’t expect to see a reunion any time soon.
But let’s give thanks that they had enough curiosity and sense of adventure to put this project together despite the logistical difficulties (Thompson uses a borrowed bass) and that we have this album to listen to.