Around the very week that I fell in love with my wife Janice I bought an album by one of my favourite writers of the time. It was 1989. It was Deacon Blue, Aztec Camera, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, Martin Stephenson & The Daintees, Prefab Sprout and The Bible!. The writer was Boo Hewerdine from The Bible! who had an exclamation mark to start.
What was interesting was that this was not a Bible! project but with some guy called Darden Smith. I knew nothing about Smith but soon I was leaving my beloved to her work in Wimbledon before catching the train into Waterloo and on to the second hand record shops, like Steve’s Sounds near Leicester Square and Cheapo Cheapo Records in Soho. It was indeed in the latter that I picked up that very Hewerdine and Smith record Evidence.
I’d sit on that train, a small town boy loving his first time exploring the big city, and press play on my walkman. I have vivid memories of the utter joy of new love and big adventure every time that Out Of The World came on - “Out of this world she sends me out of this world”.
Over half of my life later and I am listening to Darden Smith’s new record Western Skies and thinking that that man is soundtracking my life again.
Now he really shouldn’t be. Western Skies is Texas-centric and I have never felt a great affinity with that particular state. Here I am in Belfast, half a planet away.
Western Skies is more than the songs on a new record. They come with a coffee table sized book of photographs, essays, poems and the lyrics of the songs. All are inspired and researched din the landscapes of that big huge state that rarely votes as I’d like.
It seems that Smith found a Polaroid Camera in his garage in the midst of the pandemic. He’d venture out in his car and take snap shots of the landscape that formed him. It not being a digital camera he had to decide whether the shot he was about to click was worth the price of a coffee.
All of this swirled around and suddenly we had a book and a record. It is a veritable bombardment of stimuli for eyes and ears and heads and hearts and souls.
There’s a song on the record that might be a centre of the soul’s mapping in the project. Running Out Of Time puts it well:
If these days are really numbered
If there´s and end to the line
Then I´m gonna love you
Like I´m running, like I´m running out of time
If I am finding a conclusion in Smith’s deep dive into his Texas roots. It is about living the now to its fullest potential. An essay in the book called The Comet And The Train concludes thus:
“We make such a big deal of the present. Lost in our assumptions and wrong headed constructs that what is occupying our vision is a static, forever thing, when really there is always a grander motion. We’re surrounded by stars, a comet hangs in the sky, and we instead let ourselves be overwhelmed by the train.”
It sounds like a Psalm, more modern in format than Nick Cave’s Seven (Psalms).
Of the album, it is such a solid body of craft. A fine mature wine of Americana. Loose arrangements with a precision of melody and Smith’s warm voice wrapping itself around that wisdom that this review suggests already.
Most immediate of all is a meditation on Jesus wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount:
‘Cause it don’t make you taller to bring somebody down
Make me think of Jesus with his thorny crown
Talking about loving one another as you love yourself
Just keep reaching down to help the meek
Show a little mercy and forgiveness
In what you and what you say
And turn the other cheek”
Western Skies is wonderful stuff.