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Scorpio Love Songs

Daryl Scairiot's stinging musical novels

By Gabe Meline

The first time I heard Daryl Scairiot was at a wedding, where, in the joyful spirit of eternal union, he was performing a song about slicing one's neck with a sharp knife.

An unforgettable first impression, as you can imagine, but a few days later he outdid himself. Our second meeting--if you can call it that--was while I was out on a midmorning walk, and I stepped over him sleeping soundly on a Santa Rosa sidewalk.

Scairiot is an incredibly talented 28-year-old songwriter recently transplanted from the Arizona desert. Though he feels fully at home here--and, yes, he now has a roof over his head--there is something very transitory about his nature. The open expanse of the Southwest tinges his music with drift, and he sings of whispers and spirits with the languorous perspective of one who was born and raised in a ghost town.

On a sunny morning, Scairiot sits on a rocky ledge overlooking the vast expanse of Santa Rosa, smoking a Sherman ("It was my birthday--I got myself the good kind") and speaking with careful enthusiasm for Saint Rose Parish (Scorpiolovesongs), his self-produced debut album.

"I used to want to be a novelist," he says, "but I don't have the discipline to write that many pages of material." Songs, he notes, only have to last for one page or so, and now his repertoire of original songs stretches into the hundreds. Saint Rose Parish stands, in effect, as his first book, one with 13 stinging chapters.

Much like Greg Brown or Tom Russell, Scairiot is able to create truths in his work that can be jarring at first; the ghostly "Words Whispered in the Dark," for example, rearranges all safe feelings about personal space in just three-and-a-half minutes. "I used to write character songs a lot," he says. "Funny, witty--almost novelty songs. Nowadays, I want more conflicting perspectives to create a vision of the world that is more zesty and exciting and magical and fantastic than daily life actually is."

Scairiot's appearance this morning is notably unzesty: he is unshaven, wearing an old sweatshirt, faded jeans and a lamp-chain bracelet. He is educated but unpretentious, often accenting phrases with imaginary finger-quotes in the air, as if to show that the point he's making at the moment is up for debate.

Directness lies instead in his music, a jazzy amalgam of dark folk and bright melody accented with stark instruments like a glockenspiel or wood saw. In his lyrics, lovers' initials are carved in trees while newborn babies, stubborn and doomed, swim out to death at sea. They're the kinds of stories you want to hear while you're out painting in the shed, alone, on a cold evening.

Scairiot closes Saint Rose Parish with the incredible "Saint Rose," a 10-minute reckoning of loneliness. The very presence of an epic song at the end of the album evokes Bob Dylan; Scairiot's sad-eyed lady in this instance is the city of Santa Rosa, besotted with rain and, in the eyes of a recently relocated desert rat, peopled with complete strangers.

One character sells beads and offers to heal the morning shakes: "He says his name's Osiris and he says that love is a virus / That it doesn't catch like fire, more like cold." Scairiot's sultry baritone tiptoes at a heartbeat tempo, examining at poetic length the drenched population of a penitent city. The song finally concludes with, "It's not the praying / It's the bowing that pleases old Saint Rose."

"I seemed to be the only one in town who was bummed out that it was raining all the time," he explains, recalling his early alienation after leaving Arizona. "Of course, in the song, arrogantly enough, I have to declare that God, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, was the God of the desert."

Scairiot laughs in disbelief at this brazenness, overlooking his new town. "So, like, God's on my side."

A CD release party for Daryl Scairiot's 'Saint Rosa Parish' is slated for Friday, Nov. 19, at North Light Books. Alison Harris and the Tester Duo accompany. 550 E. Cotati Ave., Cotati. 7pm. Free; all ages. Scairiot also performs songs live on KRCB 90.9-FM on Wednesday, Nov. 24, from 10pm to midnight. For more info, visit www.darylscairiot.com.

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From the November 17-23, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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