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(Full Skies Records. As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/25/2013)
The Nashville music scene tends to be somewhat different from the rock world, and that's not just because of the style of the music, but because the old model of separate songwriters creating songs for hit artists still persists. There are probably hundreds of singer-songwriters who live and work around Nashville, but a lot of country hits are still by performers who use songs written by others. Sometimes, as in the old rock days, a music publisher is given a request for a certain kind of song by a producer and their resident songwriters are put to work creating what is hoped to be that next country hit. And because of the publisher-based model, often the publisher will put a couple of the staff composers together to collaborate, presumably to make an even bigger hit.
Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott are two talented multi-instrumentalists and songwriters from a mainly acoustic background. West Virginia bred O'Brien was in a popular bluegrass band called Hot Rise. And since then, he has had an acclaimed series of solo albums, including a couple that involve Celtic influence. Second generation musician Darrell Scott, who grew up in Kentucky, has been active as a studio musician and also done a fair amount of producing of recordings for others. His background includes both country and rock. One time, O'Brien and Scott's music publishers brought them together to collaborate on songwriting, and they very quickly hit it off. In the year 2000, the pair created a joint album called Real Time done in Scott's living room. But their respective careers kept them busy as instrumental sidemen, with the likes of Mark Knopfler and Robert Plant. They intended to get back together, but it was not until now, thirteen years after Real Time, that they returned to the studio, and the result is a CD called Memories and Moments. And like their last collaboration, it's just the two of them together playing in the same room, in a very informal setting, but with first-rate musicianship.
Both O'Brien and Scott are multi-instrumentalists, with each playing varying string instruments including guitars of various types, banjo, mandolin and some offshoots. The generous 14-song album features five compositions from each, one jointly written song, plus some covers of older material from Hank Williams, George Jones and John Prine. The one guest on the CD is John Prine himself singing with the duo on his classic song Paradise. And of the original material, as was the case on their last collaboration, many of both O'Brien and Scott's compositions sound as if they might be old traditional songs from the Appalachians, or even old Gospel tunes.
Leading off is one of Tim O'Brien's songs Time to Talk to Joseph, a tune that sounds as if it was written about a hundred years ago. The lyrics are an interesting story about essentially seeking out a kind of old wise man. <<>>
Scott's song It All Comes Down to Love is a bit more conventional lyrically, and sounds like the kind of piece that would work well with a rock band, but the duet arrangement here is quite appealing and honest. <<>>
With both O'Brien and Scott coming from states ravaged by decades of coal mining, the duo includes two songs about the effects of coal. The only joint O'Brien/Scott composition on the record, Keep Your Dirty Lights On is about the consequences of the coal that goes into generating electricity. <<>>
The other track on the effects of coal is the classic John Prine song Paradise, on which, as mentioned, the author puts in a guest appearance for a couple of verses. Prine definitely sounds a bit older than he did when he first recorded the song about 42 years ago. <<>>
The title track Memories and Moments is by Darrell Scott. The song's melody sounds like an old traditional Gospel tune. The vocal collaboration on the performance shows how well these old friends play together. <<>>
Another of the cover tunes is George Jones' Just One More. Including it might have been inspired by the passing of Jones some months ago. The scaled back acoustic performance seems to make the lyrics more plaintive. <<>>
One of the more memorable of the original songs is Fiddler Jones by Darrell Scott. It's another new song that evokes sound of old folk music. It's very tastefully done. <<>>
The Hank Williams song that the duo covers is one of Williams' sadder songs Alone and Forsaken. The stripped-down duet version makes it all the more plaintive. <<>>
A definite lyrical highlight of the album is Tim O'Brien's Free Again, a song of introspective words about getting one's life back on track. It's interesting that in this kind of musical context, one might expect the lyrics to turn toward the spiritual, but this song is about pulling oneself up on one's own. <<>>
Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott's new joint album, Memories and Moments marks a renewed recorded collaboration between two fine Nashville songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, thirteen years after their first joint album. Both O'Brien and Scott have been busy with many other projects, but their website says that they plan to clear out their schedule and spend the next year working together touring and collaborating further. It turns out to be a very fruitful association. In addition to the fine original songs, which tend to sound like traditional folk, and their easy-going but excellent vocal harmonies, they are both impressive instrumentalists. Even though it's just the two of them playing in real time with no overdubbing, the sound is full and endowed with great subtleties that enhance the songs.
Our grade for sound quality is about a "B." Darrell Scott, who produced the album, is known for his wonderfully clean, intimate, undiluted sound that really brings the acoustic instrumentation to life. But unfortunately, this CD fell victim to the ubiquitous but brain-dead practice of cranking up the volume using dynamic compression, which kills a lot of the subtlety of the duo's performances.
A lot of people think that you need a full band to made an interesting or appealing record. Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott have done that by themselves, through the strength of their songwriting, skill at their acoustic instrumentation and excellent vocal harmonies, it makes for great listening, and the kind of recording that will be just as appealing for many years.
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