Rarely does an album cover come as teeming with subtexts as that on Darrell Scott’s newest release Family Tree (his second after Aloha from Nashville released by Sugar Hill). A picture of his son in a guitar case adrift on some body of water, dreamily staring up at the sky, may seem cute and picturesque at first, but on second thought it also conjures up images of Moses floating down the river, seemingly abandoned by his parents and even of Ophelia forsaking Hamlet and this world. With the CD title “Family Tree” stamped firmly in the midst of this image, it does not seem to bode particularly well for the Scott household.
In fact, at his best, Scott gives us such artful yet candid and often disturbing glimpses into his life and those of his family and friends. In “My Father’s House,” he deals with his silent, enigmatic father who, abandoned by his wife, turns out to be a writer, “[d]amn near as good as Hank Williams.” In the slow, meditative “I Never Had a Sister,” Scott struggles with his lack of substantial female role models as a child and the consequent trouble he has with women later on in his life. The bluesy “Family Tree” details the everyday trials and worries of an ever-increasing family. All of these songs are clearly heart-felt and quite pretty. They are furthermore accentuated by his self-examination in the “When There’s No One Around/Will The Circle be Unbroken” medley and a down-and-dirty cover of Steely Dan’s “Any World (That I’m Welcome To).” We do also find in his closing reprise of “My Father’s House” that the Scott household is indeed holding up pretty well.
Unfortunately, not all of these songs are quite as interesting. Songs like “Rhonda’s Last Ride” about a woman’s vengeful suicide and “She Sews the World With Love,” a love song presumably about his wife, come across as too affected and homogeneous in sound and texture. Another song “Lazarus Dies Again” about a modern-day Lazarus and Jesus just doesn’t seem to have any conceptual reason for being included in this collection of songs.
Combining his husky, world-weary voice with a cadre of top-notch musicians — Sam Bush on fiddle and mandolin, Vassar Clements on fiddle, and Tim O’Brien on backing vocals, just to name a few — and his own capable guitar and mandolin work, Scott has produced a fine work of country-tinged, straight-forward modern American folk music. Considering that, in the back of the liner notes, we see Scott’s son paddling quite happily in his guitar-case canoe, we have hope that there will be more coming from Darrell Scott in the future.
(Sugar Hill Records, 1999)