Picks and Pans Review: Darden Smith

updated 05/02/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/02/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Darden Smith

Smith, 25, is a Brenham, Texas, product who has arrived on the big-time country music stage with a bushel of deftly turned plain-folks tunes, an unpretentious style and a singing voice that will remind people of a Nelson all right, but it's Ozzie, not Willie. It's Smith's misfortune to come along just at a time when country music is brimming with topflight young singers. Two of them, Smith's fellow Texans Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith, appear as backup singers on the album, adding to the music's appeal but also making for unfortunate comparisons with Smith's colorless leads. Fortunately, his songs basically sell themselves. In Driving Rain, for instance, he sings about the problems of being at the edge of the earth " 'Cause out on the edge/ You can see the long way down/ Baby, I'm thinking 'bout jumping/ 'Cause it's easier than turning around." Smith also strums a melodious acoustic guitar and his studio backup band includes such lively musicians as Louisianans Sonny Landreth on slide guitar and C.J. Chenier (Clifton's nephew) on accordion. Place in Time is another Texan put-down of Los Angeles: "Well, it's a city of angels and a city of pain/ Down the center runs a freeway with 38 lanes." Day After Tomorrow evokes Kansas City blues and Coldest Winter is a memorable pining-away tune. People may be willing to put up with lackluster vocals so as to get the lyrics straight from the hoss's mouth. Not everybody has to be qualified to sing at the Met or even larynx it out with George Strait or Randy Travis on the streets of Laredo. But at the least Smith might want to look into some sort of vocal bodybuilding classes. (Epic)

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