Austin singer-songwriter Darden Smith has been making Americana music for some 25 years; his debut album was released in 1986. This retrospective collection of 16 of his best tunes focuses primarily on Smith's midtempo and nearly twangless folk-pop tales of small towns, heartache, dreams and desire.
Smith performs these precise narratives in a charming voice that sounds like a years-worn pair of jeans feels. It's all quite beautiful and heartfelt and grown-up, but die-hard fans of cutting-edge country might think about looking elsewhere.
The album's tone is set with the first three tunes: "Two Dollar Novels," "Driving Rain" and "Midnight Train" show Smith roaming a noirish, neo-Western landscape, addressing the small victories of salt-of-the-earth American life.
But as the record unfurls, he shows off different sides of his personality and his art. "Levee Song" is probably the most rockin' tune, using a gritty, bluesy progression to explore lust and engagement. "Frankie and Sue" uses a backdrop of strings for a richer texture, and "Reminds Me (A Little of You)" includes a background chorus that flirts with doo-wop.
The closing tune, "Dyin' to Be Born Again," is a blissful slice of honky-tonk gospel, and "Shooting Star" works up a heady dose of R&B country. "Sierra Diablo" best displays Smith's abilities for crafting haunting, moody compositions.
The album is available at www.dardensmith.com.