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4.6 3
by Darden Smith
Like the somber black-and-white photos of lonely back roads on the cover, singer/songwriter Darden Smith travels the darker byways of the human psyche. The music seldom escalates above a mid-tempo strum, but these tunes are so beautifully conceived, sung, and arranged that the album never stagnates or seems repetitious. Story songs like


Like the somber black-and-white photos of lonely back roads on the cover, singer/songwriter Darden Smith travels the darker byways of the human psyche. The music seldom escalates above a mid-tempo strum, but these tunes are so beautifully conceived, sung, and arranged that the album never stagnates or seems repetitious. Story songs like "Mill Creek" slither like alligators, building tension through an eerie stripped-down approach that arrives like a slow-moving thunderstorm. He doesn't sing these haunting tunes as much as whispers them into your ear, sounding like secrets that you share with him. Clever turns of phrases like "Make Love So Hard," which can be interpreted in a few ways, and "Shooting Star" (not the Bad Company hard-rocking hit) infuse this music with smart yet subtle impact. Steuart Smith, Kim Richey, Shawn Colvin, Jim Lauderdale, and Lloyd Maines all contribute, but nobody weakens the focus on Smith's gripping, predominantly acoustic tunes. Bleak but hopeful, this is an album made for quiet times and headphones, when the intricate arrangements and intelligent lyrics can be fully absorbed without distractions. Although Maines contributes occasional pedal steel, this is not country. Rather, the marvelous standup bass of Roscoe Beck injects a jazzy yet forlorn feel, taking the music into a more thoughtful space. When a small string section embellishes the gorgeous and poignant "Late Train to London," it lathers the low-key sound in a steamy mist. Similar to some of fellow Austin resident Alejandro Escovedo's work, Circo is a mature, reflective fully realized project from a seasoned musician whose talents are underappreciated. With any luck, this fine album should change that.

Product Details

Release Date:
Dualtone Music Group


Album Credits

Performance Credits

Darden Smith   Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Bass,Harmonica,Percussion,Piano,Bass Guitar,Electric Guitar,Keyboards,Tambourine,Vocals
Jim Lauderdale   Vocals
Shawn Colvin   Vocals
Roscoe Beck   Bass
Boo Hewerdine   Vocals
Lloyd Maines   Pedal Steel Guitar
Sammy Merendino   Drums
Michael Ramos   Percussion,Piano,Hammond Organ,Wurlitzer
Kim Richey   Vocals
Suzzy Roche   Vocals
Steuart Smith   Acoustic Guitar,Harmonica,Piano,Electric Guitar
Andy Stein   Strings,Violin,Viola
Dorothy Lawson   Cello
Brannen Temple   Drums
Mike Hardwick   Pedal Steel Guitar
Michael Longoria   Percussion

Technical Credits

Darden Smith   Composer,Engineer,Audio Production
Roscoe Beck   Engineer
Stewart Lerman   Producer,Audio Production
Sammy Merendino   Engineer
Gary Nicholson   Composer
Michael Ramos   Composer,Engineer
Kim Richey   Composer
John Scott Sherrill   Composer
Abra Moore   Composer
Steve Barber   String Arrangements
Rob Jackson   Engineer

Customer Reviews

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Circo 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great follow-up to the highly acclaimed "SUNFLOWER" back a couple years ago. I find "CIRCO" in a similar vain but what stands out to me is the song cycle and intense imagery, atmosphere, great recorded sound. Darden isn't in this anymore for a big hit song, I think he just makes such beautiful music that has adult concerns always at the heart. Lighter as a whole than past works but with a nice groove and bounce that more than make up for a rock showcase. I like the jazz/folk/country/ pop/rock contemporary leanings over some generic rock track these days from darden, no need to distrack from what this is all about. I love the single track "Make love so hard" very distinct sound to this twist on words. Excellent harmonizing between Darden and Kim Richey. Shawn Colvin also is great on "Hand on the Wheel" as is Suzzy Roche on the great grooving track "One Hundred Ways". The atmosphere in tracks "Late night train to London", "Mill Creek","Make love so hard", "Rise", "What are we gonna do" are some of his best examples of his talents continuing to evolve and grow. This collection, like his great "Sunflower" are perfect gems and great bookends to what Darden Smith has come to mean to all his fans. Great musicanship, singing, lyrics and personal songs that touch your soul add up to the best music has to offer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great collection of off center acoustic based music, the best I've heard in a long spell. Not since the 70's have I heard anything like this. Darden writes some memorable laments about life ups and downs and especially love, a subject he always turns to. Its very comfortable music, beautiful, full of wonder and great harmonizing all through. Kim Richey and Shawn Colvin two exceptional singers and harmonizers just add more depth to these songs. Lloyd Maines petal steel opens things up with a song that should go to country music stations but it would make everything else lame. The Triple A single and second cut "Make love so hard", I just can't get this out of my head. Darden and Kim Richey, they just melt together, so sensually sung, whispering to a lover late at night, another gem radio most likely will ignore, it has something to say. "Late train to London" is another highlight, very different music but compelling to listen to, just take in the lyrics to this gem, can't hide good writing with over blown productions, these tunes shine one after the other. "Hands on the Wheel", nice Shawn Colvin harmonizing, another winner. "Mill Creek" just slowly moves along, like breathing on a cold winter morning, walking and thinking, but still moving on, I love this song! This is by far my favorite new cd over the past several years. Great Production job and little sounds everywhere. Dust off some headphones and listen to all the little things going on in "CIRCO". It hits me same as when I took in Joni Mitchell's Blue - Court & Spark, Jackson Browne, some of Cat Stevens great ones, Ricki Lee Jones first one, just a real masterpiece from Darden!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Just about every review of Smith begins by mentioning how difficult his music is to classify. This one's no exception. Though he was reared in Austin, and his earlier work had a dustier flavor, his later albums are a more sophisticated mix of folk, country, soul and jazz. It's a sophisticated slot, filled with singer-songwriters like Lyle Lovett, Nick Drake, and earlier works by Tom Waits, or in past decades, Joni Mitchell or Cat Stevens. A good sense of Smith's habitat can be found in a guest list that includes Jim Lauderdale, Lloyd Maines, Kim Richey, Suzzy Roche, and Shawn Colvin. ¶ Smith's background in country music is evident in pedal steel or harmonica outlines, but the vocals and production lean to more crafted and polished adult contemporary pop, akin to the work of one-time Haircut 100 vocalist Nick Heyward. The arrangements are clever, but never overwhelm the lyrics, with whispery vocals and harmonies, and soulful touches of Wurlitzer and Hammond B3 that create deep atmosphere. Percussive numbers, like "One Hundred Ways," keep their beat at mid-tempo, adding accordion to the more regular piano-drums-guitar. It's an inventive and eclectic mix. ¶ Smith writes similarly sophisticated lyrics, contemplating the intertwining of plan and fate, and how detours can unfold into opportunity. There's a strong streak of fatalism, but without the hopelessness that is often its accomplice, Smith retains an optimist's view of chance. The contemplative grooves with which he's orchestrated his intellectual and spiritual wanderings position this equally well for private foreground introspection or background fill.