Music From The Cheap Seats

Originally posted July 16, 2007

I’ve written a bit about Darden Smith before, both as a solo artist and in his one-album collaboration with Boo Hewerdine, Evidence. I shared the tale of finding Evidence pretty much by accident during one of my sprees at Cheapo’s in south Minneapolis.

That’s about how I found Little Victories, the first of Smith’s solo albums I came across. By the end of 1999, I’d moved, going further south yet in south Minneapolis. In fact, I was living about as far south as one can in the city. Only one apartment building and a street separated me from the freeway called the Crosstown, which marked the southern boundary of the city. On the other side of the Crosstown lay the international airport; it was a noisy – and relatively inexpensive – place to live.

Along with the change in address came a change in the places I rummaged for music. I was only seven or so miles from Cheapo’s, but moving to a new neighborhood made me aware of new places to look, one of which was a Half Price Books location in the Highland Park area of St. Paul across the Mississippi River (closer by about four miles than Cheapo’s). I spent a lot of time sorting through the LPs and CDs – and the books – in the store’s basement clearance room. And up on the main floor, there was a library cart that displayed the most recent acquisitions that were headed for clearance.

Not everything I found in the clearance room or on the main floor cart was a keeper, of course. But at the time, the clearance CDs were generally priced at $1, possibly $2 for something deemed rare and more valuable than the rest. This was a good thing: I got to listen without much financial risk to a lot of artists that I either didn’t know or else didn’t know a great deal about. And one day in January 2000, I happened upon Little Victories, one of Smith’s solo CDs, released in 1993.

All I knew of him at the time was Evidence, the collaboration with Boo Hewerdine. I’d liked it a great deal, and $1 didn’t seem like an awful lot to pay to check out more of Smith’s sound. So I took it home and popped it in the Aiwa. And I loved it.

As I wrote in one of the earlier entries about Smith’s music, he occupies a place “somewhere near the intersection of country, folk, pop and rock.” Little Victories has less of a country influence than do his earlier recordings – Native Soil, which I shared here earlier; Darden Smith, his major label debut; and Trouble No More, which immediately preceded Little Victories – but the influence is still there, varying a little from song to song, with “Levee Song” being the most so influenced.

But that’s a concern only for country purists, I would guess, and with the steady march of most country music to a point where the only difference between country and pop-rock is often the presence of a fiddle, that concern is pretty much a moot point. But if you don’t get country when you listen to Little Victories, then what do you get?

You get music that’s very hard to pigeonhole, as I indicated above, but music that is wonderfully written and is performed and produced about as well as music can be. From the first strains of “Place In The Sun” through the last little echo of “Only One Dream,” I shook my head as I listened. How, I wondered, could somebody this good be so little known? Well, that was easy to answer: Injustices large and small abound. And, yes, in the vast scope of the world and its ills, Darden Smith’s lack of fame is a small injustice, and – as he continues to record and release music – it’s something with which he’s no doubt come to terms.

But it never hurts to have a few more people listening. So, here’s Little Victories from 1993. (And the Texas Gal knows that “Loving Arms” is for her.)

Note: Boo Hewerdine dropped by during the sessions and helped out with vocals on “Loving Arms, “Little Victories,” “Love Left Town” and “Levee Song.”

Track listing:
Place In The Sun
Loving Arms
Little Victories
Love Left Town
Hole In The River
Dream Intro/Dream’s A Dream
Precious Time
Days On End
Levee Song
Only One Dream

Darden Smith – Little Victories [1993]

Congratulations to JB, the DJ, for marking three years of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. It’s one of my regular stops as I wander the blog world both for his tales of radio and of life and for his impeccable taste in music. You’ll do yourself a favor by stopping by.


2 Responses to “Music From The Cheap Seats”

  1. Another One From Darden Smith « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] its clearance CDs, almost all of them $1. In the middle of January, I’d found Darden Smith’s Little Victories there for a buck. Having liked it as well as I’d liked Evidence, the album Smith had recorded in […]

  2. Spending Time On Glory Road « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] Road,” and it took me back not all that many years. I’ve written before about haunting the clearance racks at a Half-Price Books in St. Paul during the waning days of 1999 and the early days of 2000. The […]

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