If one good thing comes out of this crisis it may be that musicians have come up with new ways to pursue their art. This isn’t quite true of Darren Black who actually met his collaborators Robert Sword and Stewart Prosser back in 2016 so it might be that this record, or one very like it, would have been the result anyway. Darren never makes the same record twice so I suppose we’ll have to call Playing With The Truth his political album.
Darren doesn’t do rants so this is a thoughtful, measured record with just acoustic guitar, piano and either trumpet or flugelhorn. The opener, ‘Shadows Leave’, seems in part nostalgic and in part seeking solace from the world as it stands. The nearest Darren gets to ranting comes with ‘The Clown’ with a piano part reminiscent of ‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’ – one of Dylan’s angriest songs although it doesn’t sound that way initially. The clown is a familiar figure to all of us: scruffy hair, crumpled suit; you know who he means. ‘Historical Amnesia’ is about rewriting history to fit the present political climate and also remembering what is really happening for future generations. It’s a very elegant song with Robert’s piano decoration very much to the fore.
The album title comes from ‘Social Cemetery’ introduced by Stewart’s flugelhorn which comes back later for a lovely break. Darren wraps his ideas up in carefully crafted poetry and at times I feel the need for a lyric sheet. Fortunately, I know Darren well enough to blag one and it does help. ‘Social Cemetery’ is the real pandemic song, about isolation taken to the extreme and Darren says that ‘We Might Drown’ is about the torrent that the internet drenches us with – fake news, vitriol and all. It’s a very clever song and the two go together well when cyberspace is our only source of interaction.
The simplest song, just voice and guitar, is ‘Tiny Steps’ which picks up on ‘Social Cemetery’ but with a more optimistic viewpoint, looking at starting again and fulfilling long-held dreams. ‘Take It All’ revisits Gerry Rafferty’s perpetual gripe about the music business but Darren is very much an independent so I’d like to think that it isn’t autobiographical. Finally, ‘Less In Common Than We’d Like’ – a big finish with piano and trumpet – reminds us that Brexit is still looming over us. It’s the one song here that takes an overtly political standpoint and it does seem that those we have less in common with are ourselves.
Playing With The Truth is an album that you can sink into musically and enjoy on that level but then you start picking up on the lyrics and start thinking.
Artist’s website: www.darrenblack.net
This is still the only video from Playing With The Truth but it’s worth playing again. ‘The Clown’: