REVIEW: Sarah Darling – ‘Dream Country’

Upon inspection of the cover art for Sarah Darling’s upcoming album, nothing much is revealed. The rather plain appearance evokes intrigue and it gives no clues whatsoever about the album itself. But as you open the case, you’re taken into the ‘dream’ world that Sarah has envisioned for this project, with the message “thank you for being the stars in my sky” and the CD in the style of a stargazing map. It’s a thing of artistic beauty and it’s been carefully crafted, much like the stunning 35 minutes that follows.

The album kicks off with the wonderfully atmospheric ‘Wandering Star’, a song of self-belief assuring us that something better is around the corner even when you least expect it. The subtle use of a string section (a recurring element throughout the album) adds a rather haunting ambience and you find yourself becoming totally lost in the almost ethereal landscape that this album forges. Top marks for the aptly-named producer Larissa Maestro; the production is slick from start to finish.

‘Where Cowboys Ride’ follows. What a gem. Sarah describes this one as her “love letter to Wyoming” and it’s everything I could ever wish for from a country song and more. We’re taken to the golden fields and wide open skies of Wyoming and she paints a picture of a tranquil, serene country landscape quite beautifully. Melodically, it’s traditional instrumentation used to perfection. Probably the best song I’ve heard since Brandy Clark’s ‘Three Kids No Husband’, it really is a masterpiece.

Nashville fans will be in luck for the next two tracks. ‘Anchor’ was written with Sam Palladio about missing home in Cornwall, and Sam adds backing vocals. Another gorgeous composition that is beautifully simplistic and allows Sarah to deliver a story that tugs on the heart strings with her mesmerising vocal talent. Then, her rocky side is unleashed with ‘Tell That Devil’ which was significantly heavier than anything I was expecting on this album with the heavy bass and thumping back beat. It exposes a different side to her music and showcases her versatility. Remember Juliette Barnes performing this on Season 2 of Nashville? Good memory!

‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ is clearly a personal one for Sarah as she alludes to in the CD sleeve – “When I heard this song for the first time, I cried. Every single pleading word I have been able to relate to being in the music industry and know that I’m not alone. Without the rain, you won’t ever see a rainbow”. The early part of the song sees Sarah longing for salvation, backed only by an acoustic guitar, before the spine-tingling string section enters the fray for the deeply emotional conclusion. Stunning.

Then comes my very close second favourite on the album, ‘Starry Eyes’, a track with such a warm, optimistic outlook on the rollercoaster ride of life. It’s a message to Sarah’s younger self, telling her to take on life’s challenges head-first and ride the waves, and everything will be fine in the end if those “starry eyes stay wild at heart”. This one will resonate with people like myself who’ve had to pick themselves up and continue to battle when it seems like life is against you.

A couple of surprising musical styles are then explored, firstly on ‘Montmartre’ which slows down the pace once again, transporting us to a picturesque location in Paris. The magical cobblestone streets, the cafes and the symphonies, brought to us with the help of spectacularly crafted orchestration and Sarah’s flawless delivery. You almost feel like you’re sitting in a small French café yourself. ‘You Take Me All The Way’ follows a similar path with a jazzy, swing-influenced melody. Almost Sinatra-like, this is a playful romantic tune with a real classic feel to it. You can’t help losing yourself in it.

‘Halley’s Comet’ continues the album’s theme of self-belief, championing the dreamer. The comet always re-appears when it’s been gone for a while, and this is Sarah’s song of realisation that there’s always “a place for me to shine”. Also, be sure to pick up the edition of this album that features the bonus track ‘Stargazer’, a track which you may have seen Sarah performing if you went to the recent Ward Thomas tour. Melancholic but also very encouraging and inspiring; a lullaby for anybody facing internal battles.

This album has totally taken me by surprise. I suspect this will be right up there at the end of 2017 when I compile my top albums list once again. The sheer quality of the whole project is stunning. When it’s released on February 10th, just take 35 minutes out of your day to sit and appreciate this. It’ll be a difficult one to beat this year and I sincerely hope it’s a success for an artist we should all be very excited about.