Darrell Scott: Ten – Songs of Ben Bullington

DarrellScott_10SongsOfBenBeullingtonStirring tribute to a brilliant, largely unknown songwriter

The fellowship of songwriters is one that evokes appreciation in place of jealousy, and more often spurs “how’d you do that?” rather than “why didn’t I?” Songwriters appreciate one another’s songs at the emotional level of listeners, but also at the intellectual level of craftspeople. And when they play another songwriter’s material, it’s a compliment and possibly a favor, but mostly a way to better understand and enjoy the song and the songwriter. Darrell Scott hits all these notes with this album of ten songs by the virtually unknown songwriter Ben Bullington, and in interpreting another songwriter’s material, he tells the songwriter and the listeners something about himself.

Scott and Bullington developed a deep friendship that lasted only a short time before Bullington’s 2013 death, and much of that time was spent as friends, rather than musical colleagues. It wasn’t until a year before Bullington’s passing that Scott heard many of Bullington’s songs, and it wasn’t until only a few months before Bullington’s death that Scott began singing his friend’s material. Bullington had a full-time medical practice in Montana, and though he self-released several CDs, his touring, and thus his public renown as a songwriter remained limited during his lifetime.

Scott began recording his songs with an iPhone and sending them for his friend to hear during his last few months. The last track on the album, the prophetically titled “I’ve Got to Leave You Now,” is one of those recordings. Eight of the tracks were laid down in three days, just Scott, single instruments (guitar, banjo or piano) and Bullington’s songs. The tenth track, Bullington’s sharp slap, “Country Music I’m Talking to You,” was recorded live on tour. These performances express pure appreciation for the craft of a master songwriter, and they’re played and sung by a master performer, who is himself a master songwriter. Bullington’s songs aren’t good for a doctor, they’re just good. Really good.

Bullington was both an imaginative writer and a fine craftsman. His first-person narratives bring the listener into his experiences, illuminating moments that the listener may have experienced for themselves. His language is poetic in its plain spokenness, wonderful in the way that seemingly extemporaneous speech is made to rhyme in rhythm; doubly so in the hands of Darrell Scott, who sings the melodies, but more strikingly tells the songs as stories – just the way Bullington wrote them. “Born in ‘55” recounts the puzzling sadness young people felt in the wakes of JFK, MLK and RFK’s passings, and the awareness and anger that grew with each passing assassination. Scott’s elegiac piano is as sad as the lyrics, and gives the song the feel of something Jackson Browne might have written.

Raised in Virginia, Bullington attended college at Vanderbilt, soaking up the roots music that had first grabbed him in high school. After a spell in the oil industry he attended medical school and settled into a practice in a small Montana town, where he found time to re-engage with music. His original songs led to self-produced CDs which found numerous fans among Nashville’s roots music elite, a 2012 date at the Station Inn, and now this tribute. Scott has selected several songs that lean on memories, and whether they’re actual memories or a songwriter’s creations, they evoke immediate resonance, whether or not the listener had a problematic step-father, a love that faded away or has spent time in the wide open spaces of the northern states.

Bullington’s original recordings are available through his website, and tracks can be streamed on ReverbNation and YouTube; one can’t help but leave behind a digital trail these days. But as a songwriter, and particularly as a songwriter whose own performing career was circumscribed by professional choice, there’s an extra layer of meaning in hearing his songs live in another musician’s voice, and in seeing his writing form links in the folk music chain. Darrell Scott brings his best qualities as a singer, musician, colleague and friend to these performances, and in doing so, stokes the soul of these songs. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Ben Bullington’s Home Page
Darrell Scott’s Home Page

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