(HVBA) Mike Scott is one of those guys who has a thousand-watt smile—his album covers look like ads for dental work—and always seem to be selling something. Indeed, what he is selling is himself and his ability to do so is prodigious. There are a lot of great banjo players out there, though of course you don’t have to be great to make good music, you just have to elbow your way in front of an audience. Scott is one of those banjo players, and more power to him.
His recent release, The Old Country Church, is less of interest because of Scott’s presence than it is all the other people on there: Adam Steffey, Rob Ickes, Aubrey Haynie, Tim Stafford, Ben Isaacs, and Bryan Sutton. That sounds like a dig, but I don’t intend it that way. He’s assembled an A-list and has them play naturally, not intending to produce show stoppers, but rather to make music that draws the listener to it. They all turn in—no surprises here—beautiful performances. They cover a baker’s dozen of gospel classics, all staying close to the tradition, with none of the tracks sticking its head above the rest. “Where the Roses Never Fade” has a really nice entry, Aubrey Haynie coming in with a very delicate and sympathetic fiddle part; they pick up the pace on “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” without feeing the need to burn down the barn.
Taken together, it’s just really nice music like the CDs that Cracker Barrel used to make. These days Cracker Barrel seem to do more reissues and best-of collections than anything else, but they used to make instrumental albums that were arranged and produced by Mark Howard: Flat Top Box, Bluegrass Railroad, Bluegrass Highway, Old Time Barn Dance, Front Porch Gathering. I can almost hear the eyes rolling, but that’s only if you haven’t heard these CDs—they all had an absolute A-list of performers on there, such as David Grier, Stuart Duncan, Sam Bush, Rob Ickes, and indeed most of the guys that appear on this latest Mike Scott recording. Because their names weren’t on the front cover, perhaps, or just because they were straight studio sessions, everything was toned down a bit, which was lovely. They were really, honestly great recordings. They also were wonderful to play along with—the keys were very accessible, as was the speed and the arrangements.
This latest Mike Scott CD is much the same: a very nice instrumental tour, expertly done, through a handful of chestnuts. It won’t knock your socks off, and that’s one of the good things about it. The melodies are straight up, passed around, and put down. It’s the kind of stuff that you can pick along to and get a bit lost within. Or nap to. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either. Music has many, many uses.