It takes a lot for a talented songwriter to check their ego at the door yet that’s something that Darrell Scott has done for many years. The songwriter behind such hits as “Born To Fly,” “Long Time Gone,” “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” and “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” Darrell has become a favored songwriter among popular country stars. What many fans don’t know is that Darrell Scott has one of the best voices in all of music along with a superb ability to play acoustic music. He’s recorded five albums of mostly his own compositions and even helped his father Wayne Scott achieve his dream of recording an album. After 2006’s great “The Invisible Man,” Darrell decided the time to really check that ego and record some of his favorite writer’s songs.
“Modern Hymns” is that album and when you’re recording songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, John Hartford, Mickey Newbury, Kris Kristofferson, Hoyt Axton, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen and Guy Clark, the results are bound to be stunning, which most of “Modern Hymns” is. Guests on the album include Del McCoury, John Cowan, Jaime Hartford, Stuart Duncan, Tim O’Brien, Suzi Ragsdale, Sam Bush, Danny Flowers, Mary Gauthier, Ronnie McCoury and Alison Krauss. It’s a venerable who-who of folk and bluegrass music. They all help make the album an amalgam of American roots music.
Lightfoot’s “All The Lovely Ladies” has a poetic, heartfelt lyric and melody to it that makes it a natural album for him. The gorgeous bluegrass-y arrangement only serves the lyric for the better. I’ve always loved Kris Kristofferson’s music and “Jesus Was A Capricorn” is one of his better compositions. Written nearly 40 years ago, the song has a striking relevance to it in that the lyrics of the song might fit better with the times we have now than in the past. There’s a bluesy cum jazzy opener to the song while Jonell Mosser adds a dose of vocal firepower in during the harmonies of the chorus as well. The bluegrass friends show up the Adam Mitchell-penned track “Out Among The Stars” and Joni Mitchell’s “Urge For Going.” They’re lyrical and the musical arrangements and performances are just downright breathtaking.
Paul Simon’s “American Tune” is quite simply one of the most simple and best patriotic songs that I’ve ever heard. Like “Jesus Was A Carpenter,” the song’s lyrics (which talk of the changing tide in America) sound as relevant now as they did in 1973 (uncertain economy, war, etc). “Nobody Eats At Linebaugh’s Anymore,” written by the late great John Hartford in 1973, laments about the Opry being moved from the Ryman to ‘the park’ (Opryland). While the Opry left downtown Nashville back then, Nashville has managed to return downtown Nashville to it’s historic, touristy place. Still, the song could now be perceived as asking where exactly has country music (that anyone 25 or older grew up on) gone? Mary Gauthier and Alison Krauss join Darrell for “Joan of Arc.” Written by Leonard Cohen (probably best known to most people as the writer of “Hallelujah,” popularized by Jeff Buckley), “Joan of Arc” is another lyrical gem and the duet on the verses by Scott and Gauthier is stunning (as is Krauss’ angelic vocal in the chorus.
With “Modern Hymns” Darrell Scott has managed to showcase some of his favorite songs by his favorite songwriters, the writers that helped shame him as an artist and writer. These are songs that are all masterfully performed and as such it leaves the album as one of 2008’s greatest releases (of any genre).