Darden Smith,
(Dualtone, 2002)

Texas songwriter Darden Smith has been releasing albums since the late 1980s. He falls into that difficult-to-categorize area between rock, folk and country. Sunflower edges a bit over into the rock camp by virtue of its production (by Stuart Lerman and Smith), but it's a subtle sort of production that gives the proceedings more gloss than one would expect from a "folk" album. This is not an album of driving, beat-heavy music by any means; it has a much more mellow, introspective sound.

Sunflower's theme is the ups and downs of love. Smith delivers many of the songs in an intimate, almost hushed style that befits the subject. His professions of devotion and disappointment are more convincing as a result. As he sings, he is sometimes backed by a woman's voice in the background (not conventional background singing, more of a doubling of the melody); "Shadow" is an example. Guests Kim Richey and Patty Griffin fill this role; their presence almost implies that even if a man is singing the lead, the woman in the song might tell another side to the story. It's a bit unsettling, as if two people are confiding themselves to the listener at the same time.

The most up-tempo number on this quiet album is "'Till It Bled," a lament of unrequited love. The steady beat of "Stronger" suits the song's subject of recovery from a broken relationship. "Closer to You" appears to be a standard song of the "your love heals everything" variety, but a closer listen reveals a fallible narrator who struggles with the everyday mistakes and not-so-good moments that his partner (and/or an implied higher power) sees. The narrator of "Satellite" longs to be free of his lover's orbit. "Perfect Moment" uses the image of desert flowers waiting for the right rains to bloom to give thanks for a relationship.

The album's theme isn't new, but Sunflower is an understated collection of songs about the vagaries of relationships. The songs themselves gain power from repeated listenings. The CD's intimate tone strengthens its message, making it a good album to relax with on a quiet day. If you give it a little time and attention, Sunflower will probably work its way into your CD player more and more often; at least, that's what happened to me.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 18 September 2004

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