Review: A Western Perspective from Darden Smith

Darden Smith/Western Skies/independent
Four Out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Darden Smith is an eloquent singer/songwriter, one who waxes carefully and convincingly about matters of the heart and an array of shared circumstances. His latest album, Western Skies, offers an expansive view of the sights and sounds of the American West. An inspired experience brought to full fruition when, at the height of the pandemic, Smith found himself traversing those western realms in order to complete writing projects with veterans he worked with through his SongwritingWith:Soldiers program. 

Not surprising then, these songs ring with an emphatic emotion and an expansive perspective. As far as the latter, the music is only one element in this offering—a book of photography, lyrics, and essays are also available, allowing Smith’s imagination to scope out songs and stories that were inspired by the people and places encountered in his journey cross-country. The emphasis is on emotion and the reflection and resolve gleaned in such songs as “Los Angeles,” “Hummingbird” and “Western Skies” capture that imagery and grandeur through a series of aural soundscapes that are as moving as they are mesmerizing. 

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So too, the tone and tempos shift in subtle ways, from the quiet circumspect of “Mile Between” (Lately I’ve been wishing that the world was flat/Walk up to the edge and then turn back) and the thoughtful rumination of “Running Out Of Time (If these days are numbered and there’s an end to the line, Then I’m going to love you like I’m running out of time) to the steady assurance of “Not Tomorrow Yet” and “Turn the Other Cheek.” Through it all, the music remains thoughtful, eloquent, and affecting, a set of songs that convey a compelling notion of the specific circumstance, as informed by the shimmer of pedal steel, subtle accent of keyboards, and acoustic guitars, and the idyllic imagery. This is in fact a sumptuous set of songs, and possibly Smith’s most insightful effort yet.

That in itself is significant given a career that spans some 35 years and the 16 albums he’s released in the interim. While he may not be wholly familiar to the masses, he’s acquired a devoted following that’s come to appreciate his contemplative musings and subtle finesse. Western Skies sums up those strengths in ways that are both wistful and resolute, and in the process, Smith has made what can only be referred to as a milestone and a masterpiece. 

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