DARDEN SMITH – Everything (Compass 746812)

EverythingAfter the release of 2013’s Love Calling, his fourteenth album in thirty years, the Austin-based singer-songwriter considered calling it a day, unsure he had anything left worth saying or that anyone was even listening. Instead, he turned to exploring creative avenues outside of the traditional music business, writing an as yet unpublished book on artists’ perspectives on work, doing songwriting workshops and helping put together a non-profit group called Song-Writing-With-Soldiers, a program to bring professional songwriters and veterans together to write songs about combat and returning home.

This, in tandem with growing older and getting sick of the cynicism of those in power and feeling the need for compassion for strangers, sent him back to reconsider material he’d written over the past five years, both by himself and in collaboration with the likes of Bruce Robison and Matreca Berg. Narrowing the total down to twelve, he recruited a bunch of his favourite musicians, among them bassist Roscoe Beck, guitarist Charlie Sexton and the legendary David Mansfield and, with Beth Nielsen Chapman among those providing harmonies, went back into the studio, persuaded that, yes, he did have something to say and that hopefully someone out there might need to hear it, even if it only changed one person’s day for the better.

Everything is the result, and the self-reflection that went into its genesis can he heard on the lazing lope of the Radney Foster co-penned ‘Soul Searching’ as he sings about “trying to find where I belong” and “what I want to leave behind me when I’m gone”, that contemplation of legacy also to be found on the Simon-esque title track about making the most of life and “when I’m gone here’s a song I hope the angels sing.”

It’s upbeat tone is reflected in many of the songs, notable cases in point would be the repeated piano riff opener. ‘Blessings’. (“just remember that you make a difference and the world is better off that you are here”) and the celebration of individuality in the acoustic rippling ‘Against The Grain’.

Co-written with Berg, ‘Firefly’ is a love song with a classic Jackson Browne flavour while thoughts of mortality inform ‘I Love You, Goodbye’, another song of the heart, this time informed by a friend’s passing, about remembering to take the time to let people know how you feel while you still can.

A timely song about the need for human kindness, ‘Love Will Win The War’ is, Mansfield on mandolin, a strummed folksy march beat with a crowd friendly chorus of ‘hate may win a battle, love will win the war.”

Elsewhere ‘Carousel’, a gently waltzing reflection on a past relationship co-written with Robison, features Kelly Willis on harmonies, album closer ‘Can You See The Moon’ has a late night blues vibe while, another Foster co-write, ‘Forever’ reps the album’s only glimpse of hopelessness and despair, telling of a woman walking out of an abusive marriage and, quite possibly, walking into the water to drown , though it’s equally possible to see it as a cleansing and rebirth before she starts a new life.

Smith says he set out to make an album that brings people together, an affirmation in the face of a world that seeks to them apart. Everything is a whole lotta love.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.dardensmith.com

‘Everything’ live:

Texas Troubadour Darden Smith’s Love Calling Now Available

Darden Smith 2013Singer-songwriter Darden Smith earned his stripes in the in the early days of Americana, building devoted audiences on the Austin circuit in the 80s. Since then, Smith’s songwriting has taken him on a circuitous journey as a performer, philanthropist, collaborator, teacher, and now inevitably back to songwriter as he releases his Compass Records debut Love Calling, Love Calling was recorded in Nashville and produced by Gary Paczosa and John Randall Stewart and features 11 news songs, including co-writes with Radney Foster, Gary Nicholson and the late Harley Allen. In a new “behind-the-song” video, Darden discusses his co-write with Allen and gives a very special performance of “Seven Wonders.” below:

Smith is known for pursuing new creative paths and pushing himself past his comfort zone, keeping his music fresh long after others have fallen into the recycling routine. One such path was forged in the mid-1990’s when Smith began collaborating on dance/theater productions in Austin. This led to an even bigger challenge when he accepted a commission by the Austin Symphony to compose “Grand Motion,” performed in 1999. Both of these projects, which could be called sidelines, informed Smith’s self-released Marathon (2010), a haunting song cycle named for a remote town in West Texas.

As Smith puts it, “Exploring this other work forced me to look at how I was pigeonholing and limiting myself. Am I just a songwriter? A singer-songwriter? A folksinger? A musician? This opened up how I defined myself, no longer as just one thing. I was about 40 then and the last decade or so has been the most creative time of my work life.”

Smith’s expansive vision for his music extends well beyond being a singer-songwriter. Love Calling developed organically as Smith immersed himself in projects that kept him out of the spotlight but profoundly influenced his music—and the life his music reflects. In 2003, he launched The Be An Artist Program, which uses songwriting to help students discover their own creativity. From there, Smith created “Songwriting With Soldiers”, a program that taps into the power of collaborative songwriting to awaken creativity and give people faith in their own voice. Participants have ranged from homeless youths at Covenant House in Newark, New Jersey, corporate clients seeking conflict resolution, and service members returning from combat. Fall 2013 marks Smith’s second year as Artist-In-Residence at Oklahoma State University’s Institute For Creativity and Innovation, where he explores creativity with students in the classroom and in mentoring sessions.

“With a lot of the work I’m doing now, these big projects, I kind of had to start operating beneath the radar. This allowed me the freedom and flexibility to look outside myself, says Smith. “I just opened up to these new possibilities, new ways of working. And the more I kept opening up and saying yes to new ideas, the more fun I had, the more creative things got. And the more songs I wrote.”

So, for Smith, Love Calling represents something of a culmination, a milestone, a circle completed. The album finds him pushing forward while looking back, bringing together projects that ultimately share the same creative energy.

As Darden maintains, “To me, it’s all the same, all music. Just music.”

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