Understated virtues calling
Darden Smith has been making records for nearly two decades, but for much of that time he's been lost in the shuffle of talented Texas troubadours. It's easy to see why: he's not as clever as Robert Earl Keen, as deep as Jimmie Dale Gilmore, as dark as Alejandro Escovedo, or as musically adventurous as Lyle Lovett.
Smith's virtues are real but understated, easily accessible but unwilling to call attention to themselves. This Brenham native has a feel for pop songcraft, which he demonstrated as early as 1989 with Evidence, a collaboration with British pop-rocker Boo Hewerdine. After a subsequent stretch of personal and professional disappointments, Smith re-evaluated his musical career and emerged in 2002 with the highly regarded Sunflower. His new release, Circo, finds him honing in on what he does well: lithe, groove-oriented acoustic pop that walks a tightrope between adult wariness and life-affirming sunniness.
For Circo, Smith enlists some expert support. Lloyd Maines lends some high-lonesome color to three tracks with his fluid pedal-steel work, while Shawn Colvin, Jim Lauderdale, and Suzzy Roche all contribute backing vocals. The fact that they all hold Smith in high esteem is a testament to his oft-overlooked abilities. •