Rising above the waves of over-produced and over-arranged records found too often in country music today, Ten embraces the simplicity of a man, his guitar and the songs and stories of a friend. Kentucky born multi-instrumentalist, Darrell Scott, is adored for his country melodies and poetic charm with artists such as Brad Paisley, the Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill covering his work. Ten sees Scott taking a step back from song-writing with a haunting compilation of songs written by the late Ben Bullington, who became a victim to pancreatic cancer in November 2013 aged just 58.
The story of Bullington and Scott begins with a camping trip taken near Yellowstone with their children after being introduced to one another by a mutual friend. The camping scene imposes onto the imagination of Romantics a crackling campfire, the taste of s’mores and the sound of sweet songs resonating from the soon-to-be friends. However, it was not until Bullington’s final year that Scott first heard his work, which he describes as a perfect example of ‘song as literature’.
Many will be unfamiliar with Bullington, but after hearing Scott’s rendition of his ten chosen songs, listeners will surely fall in love with the simplicity and honesty of the songwriters work. The album opens with The One I’m Still Thinking About played on Bullington’s own Martin guitar. The song welcomes the listener into the old country style with a song written for a lover who he promises will remain on his mind until his final days. The sweet honeyed tones of Scott’s voice ensures to soothe and ease the listener as they, at Scott’s request, slow down and hear ‘two friends make new friends’. The track was recorded in Dirk Powell’s home-come-studio in Louisiana with engineer Erick Jack Owiak, alongside seven other tracks on the album.
Scott sets aside his guitar in Born in ’55 and holds us captive with his chilling piano accompaniment perfectly capturing the sorrowful words on the deaths of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. With a heart-felt arrangement, soft touch and the charming tone of Scott’s own up-right piano, you find yourself comforted and warmed in the safety of his playing. In contrast, the sharp-tongued Country Music I’m Talking to You, a live track recorded in Texas, questions country music and its decision to turn its back on the Dixie Chicks after voicing their political opinions on the war in Iraq. With roaring cheers from the audience, a confrontational rugged vocal tone from Scott and a fitting coarse guitar accompaniment, the track encapsulates the disappointment and anger felt by Bullington as well as by many others around the world.
The closing track, I’ve Got to Leave You Now, was recorded on Scott’s iPhone and sent to Bullington in his final three months. The rawness flowing from this track distils a sense of calmness and reassurance in the listener as Bullington’s lyrics, filled with fatherly advice written for his three sons, encourages them to live their lives with purpose. Surprisingly, Bullington recorded the track on his fifth and final album long before being diagnosed with cancer. Eerily, a second track ringing with talk of his demise is The Last Adios. Bullington believed there to be some form of premonition in his writing. Again, Scott’s raw, untouched vocal is faultless in capturing the true essence of the song. His entrancing piano playing closes the album leaving you grieving for a man who you are likely to have just been introduced to.
Review by: Kim Carnie
Although not the track on the album it’s worth sharing with you this video of Ben performing Country Music I’m Talking to You alongside Darrell Scott, Rodney Crowell and Will Kimbrough.
Ten is out now on Full Light
Order via Amazon