This isn’t the first album on which Scott has displayed his interpretive abilities, but here he tackles a wider range of material. Song choices include Gordon Lightfoot’s “All The Lovely Ladies,” Guy Clark’s “That Old Time Feeling,” and Kris Kistofferson’s “Jesus Was a Capricorn.” Others are musically further afield, such as Pat Metheny’s “James,” Leonard Cohen’s “Joan of Arc,” and Paul Simon’s “American Tune.”
Regardless of the source, by the second bar, every song sounds like a Darrell Scott tune. He combines old-timey textures with modern tin-pan alley sensibilities in a unique way, luxuriating in the harmonies and changes of each song. Scott frames Adam Mitchell’s “Out Among the Stars” with a full a capella choir, then performs his most striking musical transformation with “Joan of Arc.” Mary Gauther sings the lead with a world-weary timbre while Scott delivers the answering “fire” part of their duet with an intensity that matches Cohen’s rendition from Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat album.
Early in his career Scott worked as an A-list sideman, and the players list here reads like a winners roll from a bluegrass or roots-music convention. Acoustic bass legend Danny Thompson is joined by Stuart Duncan and Casey Driessen on fiddle, David Grier on guitar, Dirk Powell on accordion and banjo, and Alison Krauss, John Cowan, Mary Gauthier, Suzi Ragsdale, and Kathy Chiavola on accompanying vocals. Scott plays guitar, mandola, dobro, piano, banjo, and lead vocals.
To understand how a songwriter’s mind works, you must listen to how they perform covers. On Modern Hymns, Darrell Scott delivers 12 striking performances that illuminate his unique style.
This article originally appeared in VG’s Nov. ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.