Album Review | Retroworld | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 3/5
Darden Smith is an Austin resident, Texan born singer songwriter. Emerging as part of the mid-eighties New Country boom along with Randy Travis, Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle. It is the languid observational style of Lovett that the strong opener “Two Dollar Novels”, with vocals from Nancy Griffith most closely recalls. Smith’s first album in 1986 was the small label Native Soil from which “Two Dollar Novels” was re-recorded, followed by the self-titled album, first on this set recorded for Epic records in 1988. Darden’s weary vocals give a gravitas and weight to all of his songs with “Little Maggie” and “God’s Will” also revisited from his first album. Ray Benson, front man of Western Swing revivalists Asleep at the Wheel produces the album and there is a touch of that band’s upbeat smoothness across tracks like “Day After Tomorrow”. “Love Me Like a Soldier” again with vocals from Nancy Griffith is another fine song with a more stripped back feel. Alongside the Western Swing big band flourishes of “Day After Tomorrow”, “God’s Will” and “Talk to Me” feature self-styled King of Zydeco Cleveland Chenier and his brother CJ and just rip along with some fine swampy guitar from Sonny Landreth. There is the same good time swagger and country swing that runs through Michelle Shocked’s Short Sharp Shocked and Captain Swing. Fans of those will find that same assured song writing and interesting arrangements on Darden’s self-titled album. After a surprise hook up with UK singer songwriter Boo Hewerdine and a duo album, Darden, now on the Pop arm of EPIC, came back with Trouble No More in 1990. Pete Anderson producer of Michelle Shocked’s breakthrough album takes the sound, away from the sweet country to a more rock based feel. The playing and production is snappy with Darden’s vocals reminiscent of a new wave era Joe Jackson or Joe Henry. “Frankie and Sue” swings with a pop jazz vocal swing. “All the Kings Men” sounds vocally like Boo Hewerdine, Smith’s collaborator on “Evidence”, the album between the two on this set. The track has a great bright pop feel. “Fall Apart at the Seams” is a superb country influenced ballad with shuffle beat and some soulful playing, another classic slow Darden Smith track. “Trouble in Mind” is another strong performance, with a kind of soul country Marc Cohen feel, especially when the backing choir swells and rises, this is real feel good music. Right at the end “Bottom of the Well” is a perfectly phrased acoustic track with Darden’s warm voice sweetened further by accordion and violin in an uplifting country tinged gem. What you have here on this reissue CD are two chapters in the journey of a by now seasoned performer, singer and songwriter. Two of the many sides of Darden Smith, acoustic sweet country or harder edged intelligent rock music, both ae worth a listen. Hopefully you will dip into these albums and then investigate other fine recordings by the excellent Darden. In the ensuing 27 years he has released a further eleven fine interesting albums.