Written by John Diliberto on December 2, 2016
Sometimes, the past is not prologue. Erik Scott is a seasoned musician who has toured and recorded with Alice Cooper and Flo and Eddie. He founded the adventurous R&B group Sonia Dada and has recorded with Pops Staples and Kim Carnes among many others. But none of that really seems to relate to the music that Scott has been recording over the last seven years, beginning with his 2009 album, Other Planets. Yes he did cover Sonia Dada’s “Sundogs,” a song on their last album, as the basis of Other Planets’ title track, but that just shows he had something different inside him.
There is an underlying theme to In the Company of Clouds. Over the last two years, Scott has struggled with cancer and although he’s in remission, he found himself questioning life and attaining a grateful attitude for existence. The piece “Nine Lives” represents that. It’s a hymn with wordless vocals that echo the sound of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, sighing against Scott’s melodic fretless bass line, while John Pirruccello drops twanged accents on pedal steel guitar. Scott has been flirting with an ambient Americana sound for a while, and on In the Company of Clouds, Pirruccello becomes a full partner. Like Bruce Kaphan and BJ Cole before him, Pirruccello takes the pedal steel into space.
A country & eastern twang and sensuous middle eastern groove rides through “Seven Veils.” With a title like that, what else would you expect? Scott and Pirruccello take this caravan and float it on serene winds.
Using bass as the lead instrument can take you into more melancholy and downtempo terrain unless you take the Jaco and Stanley approach. Scott doesn’t. He knows where the bottom is, but also a bassist who takes leads, playing vocal melody lines that perfectly suit his fretless bass style. Rather than engaging in Jaco Pastorius pyrotechnics, Scott honors the melody, always. He brings the music into his melodic space, surrounding it with lush, but understated synthesizers and working under the canopy of Pirruccello’s pedal steel.
Nowhere is that more effective than on “Breathing Room”. Despite a mundane bongo percussion groove, the song swirls along the shoreline of the soul. While Scott carves out a melody of serenity and release, Jeff Pearce drops delayed electric guitar phrases like glass raindrops against Pirruccello’s swooning pedal steel. As on “Nine Lives,” “Women of Avalon” features wordless vocal choirs, stacking-up Shawn Christopher, Yvonne Gage and Renee Robinson into gospel angels. They play against some spare acoustic guitar by another Alice Cooper survivor. Cooper’s longtime guitarist Steve Hunter appears, laying down some spare acoustic guitar.
“Waves” features another guest guitarist, Phil Miller, a member of Sonia Dada. He takes the lead on this track with a distressed guitar sound that cries out against the sky, while Scott and Pirruccello wrap him in caressing strokes.
Erik Scott maintains the promise of his 2009 solo debut, Other Planets, also an Echoes CD of the Month pick. Scott creates the kind of instrumentals you wish Pink Floyd had pursued. And like David Gilmour’s lap steel playing with Floyd, John Pirruccello makes country go cosmic with his gorgeous pedal steel melodies.
Erik Scott’s In the Company of Clouds is an album of release, serenity and joy.