Friday, June 6, 2008
After listening to "Red," singer-songwriter and bassist Eric Scott's latest release, it's hard to say what stands out more: his engaging pop-soul appeal, his eagerness to speak his mind (even if it hurts his chances for widespread airplay) or his spiritual resolve.
Take the album's opening tracks, for example. "Welcome to My Day," a sunny slice of acoustic pop funk, kicks things off. But then Scott, who grew up in a biracial family in Prince George's County, moves to the album's title track, which addresses a subject that has pained him for as long as he can remember:
"Time to find me a job, application in sight/Please check the right box/Are you black, are you white?/I never understood, my skin tone shouldn't matter anyway."
Although Scott didn't set out to make a CD laced with topical and personally revealing themes, the album's title cut helps set the tone. "It's always amazed me how people are looked at differently just because of the color of their skin. I hope the song connects with people who know what that feels like," he says.
So it goes with "Red." Its syncopated pop-soul grooves bring to mind such artists as Stevie Wonder, Keb' Mo' and Lenny Kravitz without sounding derivative. Yet Scott will never be accused of bowing to commercial pressure as long as he's writing songs as cutting as "These Are the Craziest of Times," partly inspired by the Bush administration's response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, or as candid as "Outside My Window," which deals with addiction.
"That was a difficult tune for me to write; it's about my demons," the 44-year-old says from his home in Calvert County. His early and mid-20s were a "crazy time," he recalls.
"I've always been reluctant to write about when I was struggling with addiction. I wanted to make that song accessible to anyone else who may have struggled with alcohol and substance abuse," says Scott, who says he has been "sober for 17 1/2 years."
A rock road warrior in the '80s and '90s, Scott mostly performed in the Washington-Baltimore area, where he became a familiar face at Jaxx, Hammerjacks and other clubs. For years he was the bass-playing frontman for the band Arsen, "covering everything from White Snake to AC/DC to Charlie Daniels. We were all over the map," Scott says.
For the past decade, though, Scott has been concentrating on songwriting. "Divine Static" and "Let's Hear It for the Fools," his two previous recordings, offered a mix of pop, funk, rock and world beat that bordered on the "kaleidoscopic," he says. "Red" is more intimate and focused, charged by rhythm, emotion and the kind of spiritual thrust that gives lift to the album's closing tracks, "Freedom in the Word," and "Lay It on the Cross."
The spiritual nature of the tracks surprised even Scott. "At one point I looked back and said, 'Wow, there's really a spiritual thread running through [these songs]. Nothing preconceived, just where I was in my life at the time . . . connecting to a higher power."
Scott says he's happy with the response to "Red" so far, though he has discovered that "some folks don't know where it fits genre-wise. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. . . . I'm more concerned with making an honest record and less concerned where it might fit on the radio dial. These were things that I was feeling at the time. I don't know how you, as an American, could see what's been going on in the last few years and not be affected by it: 9/11, Katrina. I'll worry about where 'Red' fits later, if it fits at all."
Eric Scott Appearing Saturday at the Celebrate Fairfax! festival at the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Pkwy. Show starts at 11:30 a.m. Appearing June 21 at the National Capital Barbecue Battle, Pennsylvania Avenue NW between Ninth and 14th streets. Show starts at 12:15. Tickets: Celebrate Fairfax!: Available at the gate. Barbecue Battle: Available at the gate or at http:/