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Music Review: Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott – We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This

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Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien have travelled the highways and byways of America recording and playing their unique brand of country, Americana, and bluegrass music. Both have been prolific in the studio as solo artists, members of groups, and in combinations with other artists. Eventually their paths crossed and they released Real Time during 2000. It was a casual affair, recorded in a living room over a period of several days. They have maintained a musical relationship ever since.

O’Brien has released over a dozen solo albums, recorded seven albums with the bluegrass band Hot Rize, four more with his sister Mollie, won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album, and even had a 1990 country hit with Kathy Mattea, “Battle Hymn Of Love.”

Darrell Scott has released seven solo albums plus several with other artists, but it has been his ability as a songwriter that has made him well known in country circles. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Faith Hill, Travis Tritt, the Dixie Chicks, Brad Paisley, and Alan Jackson among others. His “Hank Williams’ Ghost” was honored as the 2007 Song Of The Year by the Americana Music Association. He has recently been touring as a member of Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy.

The only odd thing about their new album, We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This, is that it was recorded live during 2005 and 2006, which begs the question why has it taken so long to have been released.

Scott and O’Brien performed concerts during 2005 and 2006 at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, North Carolina for the benefit of the Arthur Morgan School. They decided to record those performances and now they have been combined into one excellent live album.

They have an intimacy that only performing together for years can achieve. The spontaneous nature of the performances is a part of their charm as they challenge and urge each other on. They are both accomplished musicians on a number of stringed instruments including guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and dobro.

The album contains both original and cover songs. They provide a unique a cappella version of Hank Williams “House of Gold.” Scott’s “Long Time Gone” was a huge hit for The Dixie Chicks. Here he and O’Brien strip the song back to basics and then, with the guitar/mandolin interplay and vocal harmonies, rebuild it in a bluegrass style.  “With a Memory like Mine” was originally written by Scott’s father, which is reworked with some new lyrics. It emerges as a poignant tribute. “Mike Ryan’s Lament” is more of a traditional Irish folk ballad. Lefty Frizzell’s “Mom and Dad Waltz” was made for their style and sound.

We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This is a fine excursion into the world of bluegrass and country music. It is also a testament to the skills of Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien who have spent years honing their skills.

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