I don't know what it is that's responsible for all these killer tribute CDs lately, but I hope to hell that whatever it is, it doesn't stop any time soon. Darrell Scott may not be a kitchen-table name but he's very well known to luminaries, having appeared on CDs by Steve Earle, Joan Baez, Guy Clark, and many others. He also produces records, releases his own work, and plays in duos and other configurations. Ironically, given the nature of this great disc, his own work has been covered by 75 artists, from the Dixie Chicks to Faith Hill to Garth Brooks.
So, you'd expect a knock-me-down release, right? And you'd be on the mark. Starting out with an incredibly sensitive take on one of the masters, Gordon Lightfoot, in All the Lovely Ladies"/em> we get a compelling foretaste of what's in store, a tale of the fortunate and the beleaguered achingly played out in a milieu of happenstance. Adam Mitchell's Out Among the Stars marries gospel to country (and Modern Hymns is soaked in the salt of the earth), in the tale of down-and-out woe surprisingly knowing for its solidarity with the hopelessness of resignation. Gospel, in fact, lights frequently in this collection, even when playing the other side, as in Hoyt Axton's The Devil, an admonition delivered with catchy vigor, very Charlie Daniels-ish, kissin' cousin to The Devil Went Down to Georgia in Scott's hands.
The surprise of the dozen songs here is a rootsy take on Pat Metheny's instrumental James, which I've no doubt the leoninely talented composer-player himself will enjoy immensely. Darrell Scott's another musician who, like Jen Chapin and Richard Shindell, digs deeply into each well-chosen cut for not only its beating heart but brainworks as well. I've seen Metheny perform this song live, throwing his own twists in, and he'd be delighted at the tack Scott is taking, bringing it closer to the earth and rain.
Modern Hymns has as strong a backbone in folk as country and gospel, making for atmospherics as infectious as a John Ford movie. From the opening of Leonard Cohen's Joan of Arc, you know you're in for an epic (7:46), Alison Krauss, Mary Gauthier, and The Fisk Jubilee Singers joining in on vocals. Scott was blown away by Jennifer Warnes' riveting trib to Cohen, Famous Blue Raincoat (which, if you haven't caught it…well, ya gotta), and incorporated the cut on the strength of Warnes' fabulous covers and the power of Cohen's writing. Orchestra Nashville beds everyone in a chamber recital here, laying drapery and shining clouds around the entire thing.
Forefront on piano, vocals, and various stringed instruments (guitar, dobro, etc.),Scott gathered a superb backing cast, including not only the above-mentioned but Danny Thompson, Sam Bush, Jamie Hartford, and others. Of interest to fanatics (like me), he also plays one of Guy Clark's flamenco guitars on That Old Time Feeling while Dirk Powell plays one of John Hartford's acoustic guitars on "Nobody Eats at Linebaugh's Anymore". How cool is that?
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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