Full Light Records 478923

Well, if these two popular and talented bluegrass-country-folk singer/songwriters are ever better than this, I doubt if we could much stand it. Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott previously teamed up in 2000 for the Grammy-nominated studio album Real Time, and their synergy as a duo blossoms throughout this in-concert follow up. The music was performed during 2005 and 2006 benefits for a school at which both performers had children in attendance. We can be grateful these shows were captured by high-quality recordings which have now been released.

Hearing such true friends and professionals play with and play off each other is just a pleasure. The CD captures the sheer rousing energy and spontaneity of the shows, in which there was little if any sacrifice of artistic quality. Among many outstanding examples are their searing renditions of the Hank Williams sacred number “House Of Gold” and the African-American spiritual “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning.” You might just hold your breath as these tracks burst through the speakers; imagine what the audience in attendance experienced.

A native of Wheeling, W.Va., O’Brien grew up with country and bluegrass on local radio station WWVA as well as the sounds of Bob Dylan and Beatles records. He of course later came to popularity as a founding member of Hot Rize (and as the title character in their affectionate satire “Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers”), in his work with sister Mollie, and as a solo act, garnering International Bluegrass Music Association vocalist of the year honors in 1993 and 2006.

Darrell Scott, born in London, Ky., is the son of performer Wayne Scott (two  highlights here are “With A Memory Like Mine” to which both father and son contributed, and “The Hummingbird,” an poignantly amusing tribute to an ill-fated Gibson guitar once owned by the elder Scott). Now an award-winning, Nashville-based songwriter, Darrell is also a skilled singer, guitarist, and banjo picker (most recently featured in Robert Plant’s group Band Of Joy). Scott absolutely holds his own with virtuoso vocalist and multi-instrumentalist O’Brien (who shines here on mandolin, mandola, and guitar). No small feat, indeed.

Not surprisingly, such exuberant and impeccably-made music is in their family’s genes; young Joel O’Brien takes the stage to contribute traditional “hambone” rhythmic body-slapping percussion to “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien’s choice of material also couldn’t be much better than this. In addition to several fine originals (including their jointly-composed “When There’s No One Around,” best known from Garth Brooks’ recording), they perform material by such folk and country giants as Gordon Lightfoot, Townes Van Zandt, Lefty Frizzell, and Keith Whitley. It’s like they’ve created an especially awesome travel CD or cassette mix for you, and that’s a compliment.

We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This ends with the audience heartily cheering and clapping for an encore. Hear, hear! Do you have enough outtakes for a Volume Two, guys? (Full Light Records, P.O. Box 128378, Nashville, TN 37212, www.darrellscott.com.)RDS

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