The Academy has spoken: Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott are folk-country soul brothers. Featuring the same easy camaraderie and playful celebration of shared roots as their Grammy-nominated 2000 album Real Time, We’re Usually a Lot Better Than This captures the best of two live benefit shows performed by the duo in 2005 and 2006. Like their previous work, it’s a study in artful simplicity, a reminder of what’s possible with two voices and a handful of stringed instruments when the songs and talent are there. In fact, a stunning a cappella rendering of Hank Williams’ “House of Gold” suggests that even instruments might be optional. The track list mixes a bit of Real Time – including Scott’s “With a Memory Like Mine” and “Long Time Gone” – with new covers of Gordon Lightfoot, Lefty Frizzell, Townes Van Zandt, and Keith Whitley. In the true spirit of collaboration, the artists avoid following any past recordings (including their own) too exactly, freeing themselves to ride waves of in-the-moment interplay straight toward the emotional core of each song. Without all the right instincts and an almost telepathic grasp of where the other guy is going next, it would be a recipe for disaster. But O’Brien and Scott are nothing if not attuned. That these two masters of the down-home acoustic conclude with a song they wrote together and somehow managed to place on a 10x platinum album by a certain Oklahoman named Garth seems an encouraging sign. Maybe honest and true still have a chance, after all.
Grade (Pass/Fail only): PASS