Listen Up: Wednesday, February 15, 2006
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Darden Smith

Field of Crows (Dualtone Music Group)

By Jeff Prince

My favorite album of 2005 was Darden Smith’s Circo, a passionate but low-key spiritual look at the world through the eyes of a tender Texas troubadour. So my excitement was brimming when Smith’s 10th and most recent album arrived in the mail. Alas, expectation got the best of me. The album is certainly no dog, but it’s something of a letdown. Music production on Field of Crows is reminiscent of Circo, with the same rhythm section and hushed vocal delivery bounded by moody country-pop musical settings and heavy percussion, a style generally labeled “adult contemporary.” Crows begins with a bang — four wonderful songs in a row with lyrics focusing on love and human relations in an aching world. “We’re living in the golden age of pain,” “You spread your love like broken glass,” and “Damn, this wicked world / Damn, I wish that heaven wasn’t hidden like a pearl,” are among the lyrical jewels sprinkled throughout. Some of these songs are so sincere and soothing they make you want to cry. Smith creates a father-daughter classic in “Mary,” channels Leonard Cohen to nice effect on “Golden Age,” and expertly marries music and lyrics in the title song. Then things unravel.

Innocuous melodies usurp the album’s power, and Crows never recovers. Most of the latter songs could be played only on radio stations with slogans such as “Light and Breezy” and “Gentle Jazz” — if, in fact, a radio station ever saw fit to play a song by this underrated artist. Also, Smith deserves respect for being unafraid to show the world his soft underbelly, but my gawd there’s a point where it devolves into downright wimpiness. Smith crosses that line on “All That I Wanted,” where he pines over a lost love while in the background he is heard in a one-way phone conversation, pleading to a woman to take him back. I want to hear a Smith song that tells the bee-yotch to kiss his hairy ass and catch a ride on the Ankle Express. Then again, machismo is standard operating procedure for Texas songwriters these days; Smith’s tender mercies are what make him unique. At the risk of sounding like a schoolgirl scribbling in a yearbook, I’ll just say, “Dear Darden, stay the way you are, don’t ever change!”

Don’t get me wrong: Crows is good. After two dozen listens, the c.d. remains firmly planted in my truck stereo. Smith is a talented Zen cowboy whose creative juices will no doubt spawn more magic, but his latest is several artistic notches beneath its predecessor and therefore (sigh!) a disappointment. —


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