The fedora-capped, suit-wearing character whose image graces R. Scott's CD Snake Oil Elixirdidn't prepare me for the clean-cut citizen whom I met for this interview. In slacks and a casual dress shirt, Scott looked more mild-mannered businessman than blues musician. But music is, after all, his profession. No other job will satisfy.
"Sometimes it's plentiful; sometimes it's not," the vocalist/keyboardist explains. "This is what I want to do."
Scott has a diverse portfolio. Besides his new solo project, he is also fronting the '70s-influenced funk band Carnevel Kings and has served time in 00 Soul (which our sister paper LA Weekly named Best Dance Band of 2000), blues band the Helmut Stein Experience, retro-lounge stylists Foxx BBQ and boogaloo revivalists West Coast Harem.
"I like it all," Scott says, regarding his motley musical taste. "I try to find ways to incorporate elements of what I like [into my music]; that's why I have so many projects. Right now, going solo is the most exciting. With a band comes a comfort zone. If you bomb, you all bomb together. Going solo, it's all on your shoulders."
It's a risk that has panned out. Snake Oil Elixir, Scott's solo debut, is what he calls a "mock opera." It's not as serious as some classic-rock favorites, who coined the term "rock opera," but he still tells a story over the course of the album. Snake Oil Elixir relates the sinful tale of a man on a journey to find himself, only to end up where he started, but with a sense of redemption.
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"The redemption is the music," Scott clarifies. "The music is what is constant."
Described by Scott as "soul Americana cabaret," Snake Oil Elixir opens with the instrumental title track, and its creeping, cartoonish descent into foggy bayou swamps sets the tone for the rest of the album. Following it is "Devil May Care," where we finally get to hear Scott's marble-mouthed, gusty vocals, expertly layered over his jaunty piano playing. Though it begins with macabre notes, Snake Oil Elixir goes through lighter moods, as seen in the light-hearted romp "Calico Grey" and the sassy, deep South harmony of "Nawlins Bound." Another track, "Death of Me," features a sultry female vocalist (the story's love interest, perhaps?) and bluesy saxophone, harking back to a time of smoky lounges and speakeasies. "The Color Red" brings the eeriness back to the story with Scott's throaty wail building into a haunting drone. Could this be the end of our story's hero? As promised, Snake Oil Elixirconcludes just as it began, with "Can't Stay Here," a purely instrumental song like the first, but with a matured sense of accomplishment. You can imagine credits rolling at this point.
Hundreds of miles away from his city of inspiration, R. Scott brings the sound and aura of 20th-century New Orleans life to those of us who can only imagine its splendor and debauchery.
R. SCOTT PERFORMS AT ALEX'S BAR, 2913 E. ANAHEIM ST., LONG BEACH, (562) 434-8292; WWW.ALEXSBAR.COM . THURS., JULY 26, 10 P.M. $3. 21+; AND WITH CARNEVEL KINGS AT THE MELTING POT, 647 CAMINO DE LOS MARES, SAN CLEMENTE, (949) 661-1966; WWW.MELTINGPOT.COM . FRI.-SAT., 6 P.M. FREE.