Click to hear: “End to End”
Scott Link is better known to the old happy hour and mug club crowd as Diesel Doug, frontman of local honky tonk heroes Diesel Doug and the Long Haul Truckers. Eight years after the Truckers’ last album of new material, The Fine Art of Carousing, Link has resurfaced with a solo record under the name on his Class C driver’s license.
Coming Around, as you might expect, is more mature and polished than the Truckers’ stuff, but not too much so. After all, lyrically, Link’s always been world weary, heartbroken, and half in the bag. Now he’s older, a bit mellower, and probably in love, a haunted hell-raiser taking stock between sips, but he still hasn’t settled his tab.
“Flashing sign over a crowded bar / A two buck cover and a plastic tip jar / A hundred faces and someone I used to know,” he sings on “Someone I Used to Know.” “I used to know everybody in this town / I should have known it wouldn’t take that long to get around.”
Link’s still writing about the lonesome characters you meet day-drinking, like the bar fly with a hidden past in “End to End” (that’s Darien Brahms on backing vocals). And he’s still got a couple clever turns of phrase up his beer-soaked sleeve, as on the rollicking duet with Brahms, “Almost Always.” “Almost always thinking of her / Almost ready to atone / But she says it’s always almost with me / So now I’m almost always alone.”
Matt Robbins, of King Memphis fame, plays superb electric guitar throughout, consistently finding interesting things to do inside Link’s straightforward arrangements. Ace alt-country drummer Ginger Cote has taken John Davison’s seat, and Scott Eliot’s solid on bass (Trucker Scott Conley rolls in for a couple numbers).
Jonathan Wyman’s production gives the album a rich, bright sound, and there are a few surprises, like the unexpectedly spacey intro to the title track, and the Salvation Army horns on the cheesy “Night Turns Blue.”
But by far the biggest and best surprise on this album is Link’s cover of “I’m The Man,” Joe Jackson’s snarling send-up of fad culture. It arrives like a curveball nine tracks in – two loud guitars plowing through a poppy rock hook, as if someone slipped a Eugenius song into a Steve Earle mix.
“Pretty soon now, you know I’m gonna make a comeback,” Link sings, and youbelieve him. He pulls the song off gloriously, sounding as loose and energetic as he did during the Truckers’ best bar gigs. Link even adds a line about certain facial accoutrements and digital music players at the end to bring it up to date. I can’t stop listening to it.
By contrast, Link’s revival of his own “Circles,” which appeared twice onCarousing, is unnecessary here. The first version, with Jason Phelps of Jerks of Grass on backing vocals, hit the mark in ’99. Its incarnation as an acoustic duet with the sweet-voiced Jenny Whitter (better known as Jenny Jumpstart) showed up as the “hidden track” on Carousing, and proved itself to be the most beautiful song Link’s ever penned. The third time’s not a charm.
Coming Around is essentially a new Diesel Doug record, and as such, it’s a welcome addition to the pantheon of Portland alt-country that Link himself has done so much to build.
— Chris Busby
Scott Link plays a CD release show, with openers The Lomax, on Fri., July 13, at The White Heart, 551 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m. Free (21+). 828-1900. myspace.com/scottlink.