Words by Doug DeLoach
If they really are ‘usually a lot better than this’ then it’s difficult to imagine what Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott might sound like when they really get cooking. O’Brien is a Grammy-winning songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who plays banjo, mandolin, guitar and bouzouki. He’s best known for his work with Kathy Mattea, Steve Earle and Steve Martin. Scott plays a similar plethora of stringed and fretted instruments and is no stranger to anyone familiar with Robert Plant’s Band of Joy project. From the first track to the 11th, O’Brien and Scott spin out an intensely engaging sequence of bluegrass ballads, country blues and gospel-inspired and hoedown-happy songs, including covers by Hank Williams (‘House of Gold’), Townes and Will Van Zandt (‘White Freightliner Blues’), Lefty Frizzell (‘Mom and Dad’s Waltz’) and Gordon Lightfoot (‘Early Morning Rain’). Scott’s original composition, ‘Long Time Gone,’ provides the perfect launch pad for a breathtaking instrumental exchange, which not only incorporates the Batman TV theme, but also apparently served as the inspiration for the album’s self-effacing title.
‘With a Memory Like Mine,’ an original composition co-written by Scott and his father, stands out as the album’s pitch-perfect combination of harmonious vocal convergence and ear-popping instrumental wizardry. A moving version of O’Brien’s ‘When There’s No One Around’ morphs into ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ to end the album on a suitably uplifting, reverential note. If you’re looking for one of the finest examples of contemporary Americana music, you can’t do better than this.
TRACK TO TRY: With a Memory Like Mine
(On Full Light Records)