Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott – We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This (released 2012, recorded in 2005 and 2006)

Scott and O’Brien are not household names. If you want a demonstration of how there is no justice in this world then see the previous sentence.

Both of them operate in the world of Americana. O’Brien is from the folkier end of that genre. Scott is wider ranging, more contemporary. Both are high quality players on multiple instruments and accomplished singers. Both of them have had their songs recorded by other artists. Both have had interesting careers with albums under their own name as well as collaborative work with others.  Scott is an in-demand session player. Both are based in Nashville and their kids even go to the same school – yet they haven’t often worked together.

This album is compiled from shows they gave in 2005 and 2006 as fund raisers for the school their kids attend. They performed as an acoustic duo. The results are quite electric.

The playing and singing here is out of the top drawer. Most of the time Scott is on guitar and O’Brien on mandolin or octave mandolin (a longer scaled instrument tuned an octave below the standard mandolin)  but they each play other instruments – always with plenty of skill. The duo format gives them space to fill and also space to stretch out.

The real magic of this album lies in the mix of tightness and spontaneity. They drive each other on complement each other with inventive playing and harmonising which gives the performances an exciting and joyous spark. This is why we have live albums: to capture the extra energy that flows between and from the musicians in a live setting.

The material is a mix of their own and covers of (amongst others) Hank Williams, Gordon Lightfoot and Gary Davis. Particularly interesting is O’Brien’s “Mick Ryans’s Lament” with a stirring melody that could have come out of Ireland two hundred years ago and which examines the irony of anti-imperialist Irish republicans fighting in the army of an expansionist USA. Scott’s “With A Memory Like Mine” is both a show case for his banjo playing (fully as skilled and exciting as his guitar work) and a protest in the shape of a parent’s lament against a war which could be Vietnam or the Persian Gulf.

Repeatedly they crank the excitement levels up with great playing and wonderful musicality. The one false note is O’Brien’s son taking the stage for a spot of hamboning – but then these shows were school fund-raisers. But this is a trivial shortcoming – this is an album full of wonderful performances with an over arching mood of great pleasure being taken in the human business of making music.

Usually a lot better than this? I’d really like to hear that.

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One thought on “Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott – We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This (released 2012, recorded in 2005 and 2006)

  1. Pingback: Darrell Scott, Danny Thompson and Kenny Malone – Live in NC (recorded 2003, released 2004) | YA Blog

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