Music & Film Reviews: Jack Scott’s ‘Singles & Albums Collection,’ plus Mandy Barnett, ‘The US Festival,’ and Emily Scott Robinson

Jack Scott Singles & Albums

Unless you spent the late 50s and early 60s glued to a radio, listened to DJs’ song IDs, and have a good memory, the name “Jack Scott” probably means nothing to you. Though he scored a minor Canadian country hit as recently as 1992 and released an album of new material in 2015, the now 82-year-old artist had pretty much faded from popularity by the time the Beatles showed up. The 2015 album was his first in more than half a century.

Scott’s lack of renown is puzzling—especially in light of the new Singles & Albums Collection 1957–62, which underscores just how much he accomplished in his heyday. In addition to key LP tracks, the two-CD, 60-song set features the A and B sides of all nine hit singles he scored over little more than three years. In an era when most pop artists left composing chores to others, Scott wrote many of these numbers himself.

Most of them—including the top 10 smashes “My True Love,” “What in the World’s Come Over You,”“Goodbye Baby,” and “Burning Bridges”—were ballads, reminiscent of those by country/pop artists like Conway Twitty, Marty Robbins, and Jim Reeves. But Scott was equally adept at rave-up rockers, rockabilly, and pure country. One minute he could sound like Elvis Presley or Cliff Richard; the next he’d be channeling Hank Williams. Other times he’d recall Eddie Cochran or Gene Vincent (who as the liner notes on this package point out, had fewer hits combined than Scott). Witness “Leroy,” the flip side of “My True Love” and another big hit, which sounds at least as energized as “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Jailhouse Rock”; and the classic “The Way I Walk,” a minor success for Scott that became a punk favorite and has been covered by both Robert Gordon and the Cramps.

This package, which covers Scott’s work for multiple labels, delivers pretty much everything you need from his catalog. And it comes with a 20-page booklet that offers full details for all the tracks—including producers, recording dates, and locations—as well as an extensive essay about the artist’s life and career. 

Scott, who was born in Windsor, Ontario but has spent much of his life in Michigan, was voted into that state’s Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2007. Four years later, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inducted him. But he still isn’t in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I can think of more than a few artists who are members and deserve this honor less than he does. 

Also Noteworthy

Strange Conversation by Mandy Barnett

Mandy Barnett, Strange Conversation. Mandy Barnett’s country records offer little preparation for this fine new album, which has more to do with vintage pop and rock. A few tracks do seem redolent of Patsy Cline, whom Barnett played in a musical and whose songs she has previously recorded. But the Tams’ infectious “It’s All Right (You’re Just in Love)” recalls 1960s “girl groups” while the bluesy title cut could almost be mistaken for an outtake from Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis. Among the other surprises on the record: Sonny and Cher’s “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done,” with a vocal assist from John Hiatt; Tom Waits’s “Puttin’ on the Dog”; and “My World Keeps Slipping Away,” a gorgeous, moody ballad from Neil Sedaka. This is the sound of a versatile and supremely talented vocalist stretching herself and taking chances, most of which pay off handsomely.

US Festival

The US Festival (Blu-ray). In 1982, Apple cofounder and major music lover Steve Wozniak applied some of his riches to making one of his dreams come true: he wanted to create a rock festival that would be as big a deal as Woodstock but would avoid the problems that plagued that event (not to mention Altamont). This documentary, which includes new and vintage commentary from participants like Mick Fleetwood, the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, the Police’s Stewart Copeland, and promoter Bill Graham, shows how he pulled it off—and how it helped lead to subsequent major music festivals.

It’s interesting, but the best thing here is the music itself and, unfortunately, there isn’t much of that. The most any one act performs in this documentary is a single full song, and some artists are on screen for only a few seconds each. The ones that do deliver a full number—including Tom Petty, the B-52s, Santana, and Fleetwood Mac—are generally excellent. But the audio and video suffer from the limitations of the era—no widescreen, no surround sound—and the Blu-ray’s menu offers no option to play only the performances without the surrounding documentary bits, which you’ll likely want to watch just once.

Traveling Mercies by Emily Scott Robinson

Emily Scott Robinson, Traveling Mercies. Press releases tout “breakthrough albums” almost as often as CNN proclaims “breaking news,” but for once, the phrase isn’t hype: North Carolina–based folk singer/songwriter Emily Scott Robinson really does deserve to reach a wide audience with this CD.

Her songs are well crafted, with strong melodies; and though this is her first official studio album, her gorgeous, nuanced vocals—which variously remind me of Iris DeMent and Nanci Griffith—sound like the work of a veteran performer. If the lyrics seem drawn from real life, that’s because they are: “Better with Time,” for example, is a love letter to Robinson’s husband, with whom she travels the country in a motorhome; and “The Dress” is about the rape she suffered when she was in her early twenties. “Better with Time” is out now as a single, but for some reason, the album won’t be for sale until late next February. (I have an advance copy.) It’s worth waiting for.

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