Tuesday, February 4, 2014

For A Good Time, Call Scoot Horton

by Patrick J. Walsh

As folksingers go, Scoot Horton is decidedly old school. His songs are smart and tight, and his straightforward stage presence puts listeners at ease even in the busiest venue.

Scoot Horton at The Peekskill Coffee House.
It's easy to have fun when Scoot is on stage — even if you don't normally enjoy singer-songwriters, or folk music, or stories with quirky characters and unexpected twists. All you need is a keen ear and a close listen, and you'll find yourself smiling and tapping along.

With the basic tools of the trade — an acoustic guitar and simple, unadorned vocals — and a batch of wonderful new songs, Horton is gathering fans from audiences liberally salted with his fellow artists as well as 'civilian' listeners, in venues local to his home area of Westchester county, New York.

In a recent opening slot for Fred Gillen Jr. at the Peekskill Coffee House, Scoot showed off his quirky take on the singer-songwriter genre with a short set that had to feel as good on the stage as it did throughout the house.

Simply put, you have to know you're doing something right when you've got the cook keeping time with a spatula and the barista singing along with your paean to Chicken Pot Pie.

And in truth, it is just damn difficult not to like someone who quietly begins his set with "Hi. I'm Scoot. Thanks for coming out tonight."

As amiable as he is on stage, though, there is a special magic to listening to his songs before or after seeing him play live.

The chance to follow along with every word as each song unfolds is sort of like watching a sculpture emerge from a block of granite, as Scoot the storyteller emerges from the hooky rhythms of his catchy tunes.

Again and again his writing displays a wonderful knack for simultaneously coining a phrase and turning it on its head — as, for example, in the song Life and Hope, where he slyly confesses both aspiration and limitation:

"I've got hope / that I hope stays strong /
I don't sing / I just talk really long"

Even deadly serious material like Horton's Billy McGill — a first-person set piece about love gone murderously wrong — becomes engrossing when meshed with his spare musical approach and straightforward earnestness, where a more elaborate rendering would likely push the song into maudlin territory.

He closed his Peekskill set with Broke Man Blues, another take on the singer-songwriter life that, like Life and Hope, inverts the whiny cliches that often characterize compositions in this genre.

Both songs feature a protagonist whose impish, understated exuberance leaves the impression that he is happy in spite of his circumstances — and that you should be, too.

And that's a feeling that is, thankfully, difficult to resist when encountering Scoot Horton, live or via his recordings.

• Find Scoot Horton at Bandcamp: http://scoothorton.bandcamp.com/

© Patrick J. Walsh

Follow Pat on Facebook