Down This Road

Scott Kurt

Independent release, 2013

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


When last we met singer-songwriter-guitarist Scott Kurt, he was fronting Memphis 59, an Arlington, Virginia trio that sounded a little like Steve Earle, Tom Petty and George Jones put in a blender—jangly country-rock tunes full of barroom wisdom, sung with heart and conviction.

Kurt’s solo debut Down This Road is indistinguishable from Memphis 59 in terms of sound: ringing guitars, check; 4/4 backbeats embellished with country touches like banjo and slide, check; cleverly-constructed tall tales of long nights spent in one honky-tonk after another, check. Any of these seven terrific songs would have fit nicely on Memphis 59’s 2009 disc Ragged But Right.

Opening things up with ringing piano and a snaking, muscular guitar riff, Kurt paints a picture out of every honky-tonk classic ever written: “Waking up in last night’s clothes / The smell of beer and cigarette smoke / How the hell I got home, I don’t know.” The narrator clearly has a problem, but he’s not looking for a way out, just living his life, which makes for this memorable chorus: “I swore I wouldn’t drink last night / But my friends bought me a round / I swore I wouldn’t fall in love / But then she came around.” Kurt’s assertive guitar lines and the rhythm section supply the rock, while the sharply observant lyric and a banjo lurking in the mix provide the country. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Last Call” follows, a steady-building rocker with a rippling chorus hook supporting the story of a guy at the bar who’s been hanging back, too shy to make a move, all night long and now he’s down to his last chance: “Time won’t wait / This night won’t last forever.” This very catchy interior monologue is full of hard-won insight.

“Everything Is Alright” isn’t quite an homage, but if you can listen to it without thinking of Tom Petty’s “Here Comes My Girl,” I’d like to know how. Yes, it’s got a fat backbeat and Kurt’s urgent, keening voice rather than a slumbering melody and Tom’s laconic everyman persona, but it’s the same timeless sentiment, wrapped up in a propulsive new package.

The quality of Kurt’s songwriting is apparent once again when he hits on another timeless bit of subject matter—strained father-son relations—and manages to give it a fresh and tender twist with “My Father’s Son,” a reconciliation song with a pretty melody.

Emphasizing the rich musical tradition from which Kurt draws, “These Four Wheels” offers a jangly, propulsive road song referencing the grand history of them. “Like the last day of high school / We all know how that feels”—yeah, that’s the stuff. It somehow took me until the third listen to catch the Springsteen reference in this, Kurt’s own “Thunder Road.”

Bringing this disc to an end all too soon—it’s closer to an EP in length than a full-fledged album—“Come Here Look” and “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” deliver another fun pair of barroom rockers, the first about falling (and staying) in love with the girl across the bar, the second a Rodney Crowell cover that’s a full-tilt bad-boy country-rocker.

Like I said when reviewing Ragged But Right, this is some risky business Kurt is up to, meeting the masters on their home turf. If you lack either skill or conviction, this sort of thing can come off as derivative or hackneyed. But Kurt clearly knows exactly what he’s doing; he doesn’t just understand the honky-tonk rock and roller genre, he’s absorbed its legends and nuances into his blood. Down This Road takes classic forms and infuses them with a freshness and vibrancy that reveals their power all over again.

Rating: A-

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