[16 September 2013]
More than a dozen years ago, roots music mavens Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott released a much celebrated album of old-time country covers and originals. A lot has happened to the musicians since then, including a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album for O’Brien and an Americana Music Association Best Songwriter honor for Scott. The two independently carved out distinguished careers as solo artists. Their songs have been covered by country stars like the Dixie Chicks, Brad Paisley and Faith Hill. The duo also got together to perform live shows over the years and Memories and Moments is their long-awaited second studio release.
The new disc contains five songs each written by O’Brien and Scott, one that they co-wrote (the stunning protest song “Turn Your Dirty Lights On”—about the real cost of coal mining), a sorrowful Hank Williams ditty (“Alone and Forsaken”), the liquid George Jones ode “Just One More” and John Prine’s classic “Paradise,” in which Prine contributes guest guitar and vocals. These 14 tracks provide many pleasures for those into roots music. The album is the real deal. There’s no compromising for saleable purposes. They strip down the music to its essentials. They sing and play with requisite twang and don’t care who calls them hicks.
Which does beg the question, what makes this authentic? O’Brien and Scott have deep personal roots in Americana style music. Their credentials are perfect. But the world from which they emerged no longer really exists. The music here doesn’t sound different than music did 25, 50, or maybe even 100 years ago. Yet the 11 original cuts are new tunes, not old ones. They are not meant to be retro or even nostalgic. The implication is that the world is timeless—because the music has not changed.
As the disc’s title suggests, the two sing of memories and moments. That’s nice. But the acoustic songs ignore how much the world has changed. When the dup complain about things such as how much coal morning costs the residents of rural America and its miners, it ignores the fact that these same people rely on coal for more than just their jobs, but they electrify their homes, use the internet, drive cars, and do modern things—not live like 19th century peasants.
That’s not really a dig at this album. O’Brien and Scott play beautifully. The songs are heartfelt and sung with deep feeling. It appears the money to make the record came via Kickstarter from their fans and is far from an attempt to cash in on the latest fad. The primitive nature of the music suggests this disc will never be a best-seller. This is more of a cult item for those who prize this rural style. Like acts that perform “pure” punk that sounds like London in 1977, soul circa Detroit 1967 or Memphis rockabilly from 1957—roots music devotees will eat this stuff up. Those who do not will feel left out here and wonder how these fellows could be commercially successful.
So if your idea of fun is to hear old time music sung and impeccably performed on string instruments, this album is for you! The disc will make you take your rocker out to the front porch and croon to the critters in the hollow. Others might just plug in and listen to these artists’ more accessible solo recordings.