The short version: For my 2nd review of the year, I reach back all the way to last February to discuss Sarah Darling’s latest project, Dream Country. Overall, there’s a lot of little nuances that make this a joy to listen to, even if it’s a short project with its share of flaws as well.
- Favorite tracks: “You Take Me All The Way”, “Where Cowboys Ride”, “Wandering Star”, “Montmartre”
- Least favorite track: “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”
Personal rating: 6/10
The long version: With the exception of Carrie Underwood, I think it’s safe to say that reality TV shows aren’t really all that great for Country singers’ careers. Granted, Sarah Darling did release a successful run of albums on Black River Records after appearing on Rising Star, but like most artists who are in this lane, Sarah disappeared for awhile. 2011’s Angels and Devils was the last we had heard from her. So, Sarah did what I wish so many other artists would do – go independent and release a project she’s truly invested in. Granted, I know I’m extremely late to the punch in covering this, but the entire concept of “dreamy” country music intrigued me after seeing this album appear on a few year end lists.
After several listens through Dream Country, my takeaway is that it’s an album that reaches for (and succeeds with) a grand concept. The “dreams” here are symbolic mostly of dreams we’d like to chase throughout our life. Granted, we also get the traditional meaning of the word that comes to us in our sleep like on “Where Cowboys Ride”, but for the most part the songs seem disconnected from reality while also offering a lot to absorb.
Of course, that’s just the lyrical content. In terms of the instrumentation and production, it adopts that “dreamy” concept by going for songs that feel more elegant and spacious in their execution. “Where Cowboys Ride” is probably the best example of this with the softer drums giving way to a gentler mood (it is just a dream after all), but other tracks like “Montmarte” and “You Take Me All The Way” also earn points for feeling grand in their approach (by being understated ironically). While “Where Cowboys Ride” is the track earning the most critical acclaim (the luscious imagery is nice after all), in terms of a track that just has everything come together excellently, I’d say that “You Take Me All The Way” is the highlight. It plays off like this dusty tune from an old black and white movie with its swaying melody and old school piano (before the well executed trumpet comes into play), and Darling’s deadpan delivery of expressing how complete her lover makes her feel makes it feel classy rather than cheesy.
“Wandering Star” is also a good album opener that manages to blend country and pop in an way that helps to introduce the atmospheric vibe of the album. The chorus in particular soars (well, as much as you can “soar” when you’re trying to be understated on purpose). At first I wasn’t wild about “Tell That Devil”, mostly because it always seems like there’s some fiery guitar solo waiting in the wings that never actually fluctuates. It wants to break out of its cage (especially given the lyrical content), but it can’t. Again though, the entire point is to downplay everything going on, so I see it more as a moment of levity for the album more than anything.
It’s when we get back to the lyrical content that my issues with the album start to arise. Again, we see the duality of what “dreams” are on this album, but at (technically) ten tracks, some of it gets repetitive very fast. “Wandering Star” sets the album off on a good foot with its letter to a fallen victim of heartache to not give up on love or let it impede her goals in life. This would be fine, only we hear this message again on tracks like “Starry Eyes” and “Stargazer”, only with less interesting details or production backing them up. In fact, the latter track that closes off the album is almost *too* slow to the point where it collides with the sleepy production and ends the album off on a whimper. “Halley’s Comet” is also a little cheesy in its approach, and “Anchor” isn’t a bad song necessarily, but the metaphor is tired at this point.
The album is best when it focuses on Darling herself, either by getting swept up in the dream that is “Where Cowboys Ride” or by taking a walk with her through her memories on the lovely “Montmarte”. Of course, I do like the album better than what I’ve implied at this point, but at ten tracks, you have to work with what you have.
There’s only one track that is poorly executed in every way, and that’s “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”. Throughout the song we hear the narrator say she’s had some bad luck, only we never actually get into any details about what that bad luck actually involves. There’s even a line that alludes to the album’s concept by saying “I haven’t had a dream like this in a long time”. Okay, again though, why? I understand that the song is likely speaking to her frustrations at getting this project out, but as a standalone song the framing is too ugly and reeking of entitlement to let any message of class shine through. The song features, you guessed it, some graceful production that almost seems cathartic in a way for the narrator, but I’m sorry, it doesn’t deserve it.
Despite that though, this is a fascinating project that does stick the landing more than it doesn’t. The production easily gives some way to some beautiful sounding tracks, and there are some moments here filled with gorgeous imagery as well. It’s a little inconsistent and lacking during some songs, but overall it’s a pleasant listen, especially for this time of year.
Personal rating: Light to decent 6