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Darrell Scott and Tim O'Brien

We're Usually Much Better Than This – 2012 (Thirty Tigers)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Darrell Scott and Tim O'Brien

In a duo you can establish a very responsive relationship. - Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien spoke those words in 2001, shortly after having performed with Darrell Scott. That "responsive relationship" is readily apparent throughout this 13-song collection, "We're Usually A Lot Better Than This," featuring material familiar from their ever-changing live sets.

To suggest there is nothing surprising on this hour-long set, recorded more than six years ago as a fundraiser for a boarding school, is to cloak its magic in a cape of familiarity. Those of us fortunate to have heard O'Brien and Scott live over the past decade numerous times - together, apart,\ and as Bluegrass Dukes - have come to expect a significant degree of instrumental mastery, vocal ease, companionable looseness and an intrinsic understanding that "the unknown is your friend" (Scott, via O'Brien); seldom is the same song performed twice the same. No matter the result, the outcome is outstanding. Thus, unsurprising.

A dozen years have passed since "Real Time," the duo's previous recording. Four songs from that collection are performed here, including the call and response of Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning, featuring an extended back-and-forth jam and the crowd-pleasing Long Time Gone.

The entire performance is executed at an inspiring rate in a lively manner, from O'Brien's opening Climbing Up A Mountain to the closing medley of When There's No One Around/Will The Circle Be Unbroken. If there is a highlight, it may be reverential combination of Keith Whitley's You Don't Have To Move That Mountain and Scott's The Hummingbird, two songs of belief and faith, albeit in different things.

Hambone doesn't necessarily transfer well to an audio-only setting, but that is the only flaw to be found on an acoustic album containing some of the finest songs - from Lightfoot, Frizzell, Williams and Van Zandt, to Scott and O'Brien - you'll hear within a live recording this year.