I've met so many "great" musicians during my years as a photographer and music critic that few, besides Bob Dylan, inspire awe. But Darrell Scott is an exception. On his latest solo release, The Invisible Man, Scott delivers twelve reasons why he ranks as the most outstanding and underrated songwriter and performer in the United States today.
Darrell Scott's personal history includes birth in London, Kentucky, a youth spent in East Gary, Indiana, and enough experience playing in roadhouses that by age 16 he was playing gigs in southern California. Scott spent some time in Boston, studying poetry and literature at Tufts University, before he picked up and moved to Nashville. Soon after arrival in Music City he began playing backup gigs behind the likes of John Cowan, Sam Bush, and Guy Clark. Currently Scott plays in Steve Earle's band the Bluegrass Dukes.
Scott's first solo album appeared in 1997, Aloha From Nashville, followed by Family Tree in 1999, and a duet album with Tim O'Brien, Real Time, in 2000. This album had the Grammy-nominated instrumental "The Second Mouse", and the Grammy-winning song "Long Time Gone." In 2001 Scott was named "Songwriter of the Year" by the Nashville Songwriters Association, and in 2002 received ASCAP's "Songwriter of the Year" honors. In 2003 Scott formed Full Light Records and as his first project he produced an album by his father, Wayne Scott, titled This Weary Way. Next came his own studio album titled Theater of the Unheard. 2004 saw the release of a live album, Live in NC, which featured a power trio with Danny Thompson on acoustic bass and Kenny Malone on percussion. On this new album Thompson and Malone are joined by Dirk Powell on accordion and fiddles, Richard Bennett on electric guitar, Dan Dugmore on e-bow guitar and pedal steel, Gabe Dixon on electric piano, Andrea Zonn on fiddle, Tim O'Brien on fiddle and mandolin, Sam Bush on mandolin, Steve Conn on accordion, and Suzi Ragsdale, John Cowan, Jonell Moser, Don Scott, Marcus Hummon, and Tim O'Brien on backup vocals. Darrel Scott plays acoustic and electric guitars, accordion, mandolin, weissenborn slide, organ, mandolin, banjolin, bouzouki, bass, and piano on the disc, but not all at the same time.
Compared with his past efforts The Invisible Man has more of a rock edge with fuller orchestration and multiple layers of textured sound. Given the nature of the tunes, these more assertive arrangements work beautifully. Like a well-structured play or novel The Invisible Man begins quietly with the pensive "Hank William's Ghost" before slowly gearing up to a crescendo on "Do it Or Die Trying" and then on to the ironic anthem "Goodle, USA." All but one of the songs, "Shattered Cross," written by the late Stuart Adamson, are Darrell Scott originals, and even this one cover fits in so well that without credits you would never know it wasn't his. Like the great concept albums of the ‘70's and 80's The Invisible Man has an epic quality and pervasive feel that unites all the songs into a cohesive whole. By the time you get to the last song "My Final Hour," you've traveled on a musical journey that touches all your emotions.
Usually PR releases regale reviewers with hyperbole, but the sheet that accompanied The Invisible Man was refreshingly direct and surprisingly modest. It referred to Darryl Scott as a "mischievous artist" and a "master of both the infectious Appalachian-inflected riff, and the instruments that bring them to life." So I'm forced by journalistic duty to add that Darryl Scott is a genius and if you don't own a copy of The Invisible Man you are missing out on one of the best albums to come down the pike in a long time. I just hope I'm not being too subtle with my praise.