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Soundcheck: Jason Scott and The High Heat — Castle Rock

The singer-songwriter's groundbreaking full-band full-length is a goldmine of lyrical nuggets.

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Castle Rock knows it's amazing.


Filled to the brim with crafty songwriting and smart arrangements, it could dazzle. It could toot its horn, but it doesn't. Will fresh listeners catch Jason Scott's play on words describing a punchdrunk time clock in opening track "Quittin' Time"? Will they follow that the "six ideas in rotation" on "Me and Marryanne" is describing a revolver, not conversation? Will they recognize that "A Little Good Music" grows out of the same opening chords as Erik Satie's Gymnopédie No.1? No, certainly not everyone, but Castle Rock trusts that the right ones will.


The highly-anticipated new full-length album from Jason Scott is his first, following 2017's acclaimed Living Rooms EP, and this time, he rides with a band of major Oklahoma players called The High Heat. Together, they take Scott's folk writing to unprecedented places. With heaps of country and rock influences in the mix, Castle Rock is a big, chiseled LP in capital letters. These songs don't miss, and the more one dives into them, the more they impress.


Scott does occasionally show off, like in his "Suffering Eyes" first verse fake-out ("I go jumpin' into lovin' just to land on my....Ask me how it is"). More often, though, he uses his cleverness to enrich the storytelling rather than talk over the story.


Take the quaint "Ft. Worth," which duets with Abbey Philbrick of Twiggs. Scott wrote the song for a wedding, something he sometimes does with his Sound and String music business. The second verse slides in unassuming turns of meaning on repeated words. "Hold my liquor" becomes "hold me like a child" becomes "hold onto the memories." "Take me back to Texas" becomes "Take me by the hand." These bits of poetic songwriting are subtle in context, and for an occasion as overt as a wedding, they evidence Scott working over and above for the craft. "Ft. Worth" wasn't intended to be recorded for the album. He just happened to write a song good enough for it.


This song and most others on the album also understate their choruses through modest arrangement. If one isn't paying attention to the chord changes, some choruses won't reveal themselves until they come back around. Within the fringes of Scott's half-spoken incidental conjunctive phrases, the casual procession disarms the listener so that when the album does decide to pull a surprise — "So It Goes" throws a doozy in its last minute, for example — it is played for maximum effect. A similar approach is taken to the record's use of profanity.


Another sly innovation is how Scott will sometimes carry past a 4/4 measure to finish a thought in the next one, like on the perky, ill-fated outlaw tale "Me and Marryanne." There, he uses the phrase "the only time my Marryanne has ever missed" to transition from lively honky-tonk bar piano into a patch of blue tones without giving the listener a break in lyrics to anticipate it. The gentle off-guardedness develops and elevates the plot simply by how it writes across the downbeat.


The album is full of brief but key moments like these, and they all add up to a unique style that can only be called Jason Scott and The High Heat. In writing to a musical bar, they think outside of it; in playing to a dive bar, they surpass expectations; and in terms of qualifying what a Jason Scott song is, the bar has never been higher.

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