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Circo

Darden Smith

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Album Review

Like the somber black-and-white photos of lonely back roads on the cover, singer/songwriter Darden Smith travels the darker byways of the human psyche. The music seldom escalates above a mid-tempo strum, but these tunes are so beautifully conceived, sung, and arranged that the album never stagnates or seems repetitious. Story songs like "Mill Creek" slither like alligators, building tension through an eerie stripped-down approach that arrives like a slow-moving thunderstorm. He doesn't sing these haunting tunes as much as whispers them into your ear, sounding like secrets that you share with him. Clever turns of phrases like "Make Love So Hard," which can be interpreted in a few ways, and "Shooting Star" (not the Bad Company hard-rocking hit) infuse this music with smart yet subtle impact. Steuart Smith, Kim Richey, Shawn Colvin, Jim Lauderdale, and Lloyd Maines all contribute, but nobody weakens the focus on Smith's gripping, predominantly acoustic tunes. Bleak but hopeful, this is an album made for quiet times and headphones, when the intricate arrangements and intelligent lyrics can be fully absorbed without distractions. Although Maines contributes occasional pedal steel, this is not country. Rather, the marvelous standup bass of Roscoe Beck injects a jazzy yet forlorn feel, taking the music into a more thoughtful space. When a small string section embellishes the gorgeous and poignant "Late Train to London," it lathers the low-key sound in a steamy mist. Similar to some of fellow Austin resident Alejandro Escovedo's work, Circo is a mature, reflective fully realized project from a seasoned musician whose talents are underappreciated. With any luck, this fine album should change that.

Biography

Born: 11 March 1962 in Brenham, TX

Genre: Country

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Named after a local rodeo rider, Darden Smith grew up in Austin, TX. In the 1980s, the rootsy singer/songwriter began building quite a following, and his independent 1986 debut was snapped up by Epic. Three of its cuts were re-recorded for 1988's Native Soil; the single "Little Maggie" placed on the country charts. Trouble No More — a collaboration with British songwriter Boo Hewerdine of the Bible — followed in 1990. Three years later, Smith distanced himself even further from his country...
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Circo, Darden Smith
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