Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien, known for their solo work as well as for stints in high-profile bands, have united for a live album. Titled We’re Usually a Lot Better Than This, and due for release October 9, 2012 on the Full Light Records label through Thirty Tigers, the album was recorded during two separate concerts at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, N.C. in 2005 and 2006. The shows were benefits for the Arthur Morgan School, where both had children attending as students at the time. (It’s not their first recording together; the Grammy-nominated studio album Real Time in 2000 was their debut as a duo.)
“With Tim and me, it’s all fair game,” says Scott of the collaboration. “We are fearless and we egg each other on toward the edge of crash and burn. Hopefully there’s more burn than crash here.”
The album contains 13 songs including originals by both O’Brien and Scott from Real Time, plus covers of songs by Townes Van Zandt (“White Freightliner Blues”), Lefty Frizzell (“Mom and Dad’s Waltz”), Hank Williams (“House of Gold”), Gordon Lightfoot (“Early Morning Rain”) and Keith Whitley (“You Don’t Have to Move That Mountain”). It was mixed and mastered by Ray Kennedy.
Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Scott has collaborated with the likes of Steve Earle, Sam Bush, Guy Clark, Mary Gauthier and others. In recent years he has been a member of Robert Plant’s Band of Joy. The Kentucky native won the 2007 “Song of the Year” award from the Americana Music Association for his song “Hank Williams’ Ghost” from his 2006 album The Invisible Man. His latest solo album is Long Ride Home, released in 2012.
Country and bluegrass musician O’Brien has more than 13 solo albums to his credit, in addition to a duet single with Kathy Mattea titled “Battle Hymn of Love” that charted #9 on Billboard’s Country singles chart in 1990. He’s also recorded four albums with his sister Mollie, the latest of which is Reincarnation: The Songs of Roger Miller. In the ’80s, he recorded seven albums with Nick Forster in the band Hot Rize, which won repeated awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association. After the group disbanded in 1990, O’Brien signed a solo deal with Sugar Hill Records and released Odd Man In. The Grammy winner (Best Traditional Folk, 2005) has also played and recorded with Mark Knopfler, Steve Martin, Steve Earle and more.
Scott and O’Brien met while in the lobby of a music publishing company in Nashville 15 years ago. “Putting strangers into a room to ‘create art’ (write songs) is normal practice among publishing companies,” explains Scott. “We came up with a song and it went on Tim’s next record. A few months later, we wrote another that went on Garth Brooks’ next record. Tim bought a van with his money — I remodeled the kitchen with mine.”
They actually first performed together at a “pickin’ party” thrown by bluegrass legend Sam Bush. It worked so well that they booked a European tour together. “No rehearsals,” Scott notes, “just get up on stage and go cat go!”
“Tim is what is called a quadruple threat,” Scott continues. “He writes great, he sings and plays great . . . and he plays well with others. What we found is that there’s a fire, an intensity, an immediacy, even an intimacy, when Tim and I get together.”
“Tim urges me to do my best listening, playing and singing. He urges me to embrace the old-soul country that lies in wait inside me. He does this by being the best I know in all of the above. He stands in the river and says, ‘Come in, the water’s fine.’ And I go in and we play.”
We’re Usually a Lot Better Than This is testament to their chemistry.