It would be easy to either faintly praise or lightly dismiss Darden Smith at this point in his career. At first listen, his ninth album, is a pleasant enough experience; Smith's honeyed voice floats above the meticulously, but airily arranged electric folk/pop soundtrack, inspiring neither handsprings nor revulsion. It all just seems so nice.
And therein lies the greatest danger of the first listen. Lurking beneath the surface of Smith's seemingly innocuous veneer are a set of songs that are deceptively wistful in their musical presentation and rife with plenty of disconcerting lyrical imagery. Part of the deception is found in the song titles: "Talk Me Down" isn't about condescension, it's about suicide, whether it's literal or metaphorical, and "Golden Age" isn't about the best of times, it's about the worst of times ("This is the golden age of pain..."). "Any Way" is a great example of Smith's dichotomy, with its laconic Beatles-via-Marc-Cohn melodicism smoothing the way for his David Baerwald-like lyrics of recrimination and resignation ("You spread your love like broken glass/Beautiful to see/Lead me down the garden path/Trying to make me bleed").
Like the bird he named his new album after, Darden Smith's work initially seems monochromatic and only mildly interesting until proper exploration reveals its wicked complexity and passionate intelligence.