By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Birds of a feather
Deep Fantastic Blue
Darden Smith and Boo Hewerdine are the Hardy Boys of the modern singer-songwriter set. The two pals--who frequently tour and record together--utilize silken tunecraft, cotton-candy melodies, and crisp, mountain-air vocals to solve the mystery of where folk-rock stops and country-pop starts.
Both are principally solo artists, though, and elected to go the individual route on these new records. Of course, the proximity of their release dates brings up the possibility that the pair might tour together--and that's fine. As demonstrated on Evidence, their 1989 album, both complement each other's strengths and make up for their weaknesses.
In fact, maybe a collaboration would have been a sound idea this time out. The bottom line on these albums is that while Smith is ultimately more successful at his Jackson Browne-Drinks-Shiner-With-Willis Alan Ramsey mannerisms than Hewerdine is at his saccharine Dan Fogelberg-Steals-Roger McGuinn's-Twelve-String inclinations, they could use a dose of mutual parasitism.
Hewerdine's hooks are more immediately gripping, as on "World's End," "Joke," and "Dreamlife," but most of the melodies ("Candyfloss" and "Sycamore Fall," for example) are too cloying, like milkshakes from a Target snack bar. Hewerdine's lyrics range from childishly romantic ("The Love Thieves," "Holy Water") to the disturbingly peculiar ("Last Cigarette" is a lovely tune about quitting smoking! It's like getting a Valentine card that smells like an ashtray).
Smith, on the other hand, is more than capable of writing a catchy chorus that doesn't sound as though it rolled off the Sugar Frosted Flakes assembly line. "First Day of the Sun," "Skin," and "Hunger" are inspired tunes and will hopefully knock a few Hootie efforts off the AAA charts.
Smith's strong point, though, may be his lyrics. He examines childhood, love, pain, and faith without relying on the ol' rhyming dictionary, and there's a laid-back groove to his poet's ruminations. But a few of the songs seem a bit bland ("Broken Branches," "Stop Talking," and "Silver and Gold"), as though Smith could have used a bit of Hewerdine's melodic input--just as Boo's material would have benefited from Darden's narrative advice and compositional restraint.
In fact, on reflection, maybe the worst thing these guys could have done was to release these albums at the same time. Each would seem stronger taken individually rather than in comparison. Maybe the best answer is to buy one or the other--or just listen to both at the same time.