I first heard Darrell Scott’s voice on a mixed CD some songwriter friends had been passing around. The songs were labeled though much of them were faint having passed through so many hands. It was also scratched to hell which was frustrating but I always pushed through nevertheless. One of the tunes was a song that I had just heard recorded back to back by newgrass pillars Cadillac Sky and the original formation of Mountain Heart. It was entitled “Memory Like Mine” and to me it was an instant classic. The gallop and chugging of its rhythm went so perfectly with the lyrics of a train carrying off a father’s son killed in battle. The song had such a sorrow and rage to it that I knew the songwriter must be well-acquainted with those emotions. Then a little time later Long Time Gone and You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive came through my headphones and I was officially a stan. Darrell Scott albums are one of those litmus tests that I use to figure out whether or not a stranger and I might be able to forge a lasting friendship. “Oh you think Theatre of the Unheard is just ok? ” “Well, I think you’re just ok.”
This Friday, Darrell Scott gave us yet another litmus test named Jaroso. The album was named after a village just along the Colorado/New Mexico border. As you’ll be able to detect during the banter in between songs, Jaroso was recorded in an old adobe church with just a few souls in the room to participate. The album starts with Darrell inviting folks to “come on in, grab a chair” and then asking permission from the crowd to allow a dreamer to dream with “There’s a Stone Around My Belly”. The intimate crowd responds by singing “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.” It’s a beautiful exchange and sets the mood for their remaining time together.
Darrell dilutes the room full of voices down to one for the a cappella “No One Needs Angel”. We get the fortune to hear a cover from Darrell with “(Have You Ever Been Down To) Colorado”. It’s always a special treat to hear the selection of songs that brilliant songwriters choose to cover. It’s like getting to sneak a spoonful of an ages old family recipe. You know it’s been vetted, approved by the masters and sure to satisfy. Scott chooses “Colorado” with an intro lamenting both the loss of Merle Haggard and his father. It’s a sweet moment and a sweet song. It’s followed by a patient, front porch version of Fiddler Jones.
Following Fiddler, Scott pulls from the Hoyt Axton songbook with “Evangelina”. Beforehand, he briefly reminisces about cutting his teeth and playing gigs, before the groundswell of his artistry, in less-than desirable venues like truck stops and seamy bowling lounges. It’s bound to be a full circle moment as he finds himself choosing to record this album in a room with no PA and a handful of instruments handed down from his friend’s nearby house. It’s a moment of getting back to the basics yet remaining masterful.
Up next is “Hummingbird”, his signature tune, never gets old. It’s a music memory that I believe serves just as much therapy for Scott, himself, as it does for those listening in. To me, it’s that story your aging father tells and has told for years. He tells it like it’s the first time he’s ever mentioned it yet he asks each time “Have you ever heard about the time?” – never really giving you time to answer. He assumes you haven’t, but even if you have, it’ll still be beneficial to revisit. He’s right. He’ll always be right.
Perhaps it’s Scott’s smooth vocal tone but I hardly recognized Malcolm Holcombe’s “Who Carried You”. Even though their voices couldn’t be further apart on the spectrum, the lyrical pairing makes perfect sense.
The night wraps up with an original “Colorado”, another respectful nod to the land of the locals. No doubt, this recording was a reprieve for that community, like the rest of us, rocked by a pandemic. The year of 2020 has shut down many aspects of life but for musicians nothings looms larger than the plague upon large concerts. A live album seems almost painful to think about but props to Darrell Scott for thinking outside the box. Jaroso is a direct reflection of the new reality. I hope this new release leaves others inspired, ultimately realizing, that small crowds don’t mean less impact.