The history of jazz guitarists playing country tunes is long and distinguished, starting with Slim Bryant, Les Paul, and George Barnes in the 1930s. Joe Pass’s final recording, with Roy Clark, was an album-length exploration of Hank Williams. Hank Garland had long moved between country and jazz. So it’s hardly surprising John Scofield would apply his virtuosity to country’s wide and varied palette.
With keyboardist Larry Goldings, bass icon Steve Swallow, and drummer Bill Stewart, he masterfully interprets songs spanning two centuries, respecting their roots while delving into their structure, injecting new ideas and nuggets of humor.
It doesn’t matter if he’s reaching to the 1800s for “Wayfaring Stranger,” probing George Jones’ repertoire with “Just A Girl I Used To Know,” “Mr. Fool,” and “Bartender’s Blues,” exploring Dolly Parton’s dark, desperate “Jolene,” or interpreting Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One.” Scofield surprises, pulling “Mama Tried” in directions Merle Haggard would never have imagined.
Hank Williams’ ballad “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” becomes something totally different when taken at a breakneck tempo. “Red River Valley” begins with a shout-out to Johnny and the Hurricanes’ “Red River Rock” before flying into improvisation mode.
Throughout, the blend of tradition and creative adventure is irresistible.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s April ’17 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.