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Darden Smith

SUNFLOWER (Dualtone) • Darden Smith

I was traveling, and packed this unheard into my suitcase. I just liked the way it looked, you could hope it was going to be a thing of natural and redemptive beauty. At least I did. Didn't put it on till I got home, early this morning.

Every song is beautiful. Really deep, but you don't have to lower yourself into a well to get it. Essentially personal, but so brilliantly distilled that its message and grace is offered freely to the willing and open listener.

On the second pass, I'm in awe of the deceptively simple arranging that went into the tracks of this record. How translucently the elements are laid out, the nylon string guitar in tandem with the electric in different and equal measure, the way the unobtrusive keyboard tracks pull the drawstring into the center where the quiet groove and bass await. Darden is such an easy singer to listen to. No shred of pretense, no ego in the track, and that is truly rare. That takes more than a great artist.

This last quality makes me wish the great photo of the artist on the street had a closer view of his face, and his eyes. But I'm led back to the songs instead. And I've seen those eyes, now I recall. Met him in a coffee shop a couple of times when he'd stop in to Nashville on songwriting trips. He's a kind of quiet person, very unassuming. I wouldn't have known how great he was.

Gary Nicholson, one of our best songwriters here, cowrote two songs with Darden, "Easier Said than Done" and "New Gospel." Rick Neigher cowrote my initial favorite, "After All this Time." The lovely "Shadow" was penned with J.D. Martin. The rest were written by the artist solely.

Patty Griffin contributes singularly. As much as I like her records, I like her best when she's singing harmony on the records of others. Darden has a fabulous bunch of guys on this record that seem to be his band from Austin, they'd have to be, to play together this way.

Three things I resolve after hearing this record. I have to go to TX and do an Austin issue of Puremusic. I have to get a nylon string guitar. Most of all, I have to dig deeper for my next song. We strongly recommend buying this terrific record. Amidst the clatter and the drivel, it's a gift. • FG

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