Photo by Matt Riley
Darrell Scott is one of music’s most endearing outsiders. An accomplished songwriter whose songs have became hits for artists like Travis Tritt and the Dixie Chicks, as well as a versatile multi-instrumentalist who has played alongside musicians like Robert Plant and Tim O’Brien, the musician has never rose to mainstream prominence himself, and indeed seems to like it that way. Still, he pops up in the wildest of places at times, and his intimate two-set performance in Hamilton, Montana, boasting a population of just over 4,000, was no exception.
Scott began his first set slowly, with “Crooked Road” and “Someday,” and then began to build the dynamics up with “It’s a Great Day To Be Alive.” Near the end of the song he dug deeper into his guitar, releasing a masterful solo few guitarists can pull off with no backing accompaniment. Not to be confined to a single instrument, however, he then sat down at the onstage piano for “Trying Not To Love You” and a haunting rendition of the traditional tune “Wayfaring Pilgrim.”
Scott has a commanding ability to take any song – his own or otherwise – and inject it with subtle nuances that pull fresh layers of soul out of each melodic turn. Though many of his own tunes have been made far more famous by other singers, in the songwriters hands and through his own voice they take on a new life. He fares just as strongly as an interpreter of other peoples’ songs, which he demonstrated at the end of his first set with a cover of “Lone Pine,” written by deceased Montana songwriter Ben Bullington (Scott recorded an entire album of Bullington’s tunes a couple years ago) and a gorgeous take on the classic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
Second set began with Scott once again behind the piano for “Heartbreak Town” and “Double Headed Eagle,” the latter becoming even more grandiose and emotionally compelling then translated through the keys. He switched back to guitar for the crowd favorite “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” He drew large cheers from the audience during “With A Memory Like Mine” with another brilliant solo, improvised with such a firm understanding of the art of composition that it became a song within a song. True to his individual spirit, the artist only played one song of his new record, Couchville Sessions, waiting until the very end of his show to share the tender “It’s Time To Go Away” before tipping his hat to his Montana audience with a Ben Bullington Encore.