Darrell Scott enjoys a reputation as one of country music’s most talented guitar and steel players, so it was no surprise when Led Zep’s Robert Plant asked Scott to join Plant’s Band of Joy. Scott’s backed up such talents as Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and Patty Loveless on their recordings. But Scott is also a wonderful songwriter, which is evident here on his seventh studio album. The material itself stands out more than the playing, and that’s saying a lot.
Sure, Scott picks and slides his way through the songs with considerable finesse. He’s also joined by luminaries such as, Patty Griffin, Tim O’Brien, Rodney Crowell and others on several tracks. More importantly, the album’s core band features the piano playing of country legend Hargus “Pig” Robbins (George Jones, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, etc.), acoustic bassist Dennis Crouch (Johnny Cash, Charlie Louvin, T-Bone Burnett, etc.) and drummer Kenny Malone (Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, etc.). As good as the musicianship is, and good is certainly an understatement, they are great—the songwriting is better. That’s not a total shock. Scott has penned top notch material for artists such as Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
To be fair, Scott did have some first-class help composing these tunes. Texan Guy Clark co-wrote one of the album’s best songs and released it on his album first. It’s hard to blame him. The song, performed here together with Scott, uses the gravel space outside a concrete tavern during and after hours as the setting of a full range of lowlife activities. There’s a drunken fight, a couple grappling in the back seat of a car and other typical Saturday night scenes found outside a bar, but the lyrics give the participants a sense of dignity. Scott and Clark use their rough hewn voices to make the narrative friendly, as if we were talking with them outside such an establishment while grabbing a smoke. It’s the aural equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting. What’s presented is commonplace and special as a result of being ordinary. The characters are folks just like us, looking for a little thrill in life and something to relieve the boredom.
Scott also co-wrote two of the songs with an older country musician, Wayne Scott, who just happens to be his father. Dad penned the bluesy “The Country Boy” when Darrell was just 16, and the son helped him finish the tune. Wayne takes the lead on the vocals and the sound of his world weary voice gives the lyrics a profound wisdom as he croons about the hardships of life. Dad returned the favor by penning the ending to a song Darrell had written, “You’re Everything I Wanted Love to Be”, a spritely declaration of how romance changes everything. Both of these tunes are more than 30 years old, but this is the first time they have been recorded.
The happy love songs are the exceptions. Most of Scott’s protagonists are haunted by the loves they can no longer have on cuts like “Candle for a Cowboy”, “Dance in the Darkness” and “It Must Be Home”. After all, this is country music, which is almost a synonym for sad songs. But Scott can make you feel the pain again and again and again. That’s a hard trick to do without turning off the listener, but on Long Ride Home one just wants to put the disc on repeat and hear it all over again.