ALBUM REVIEW: Sarah Darling – ‘Wonderland’

The UK has become a second home for Sarah Darling in recent years. No stranger to our shores, she’s played a number of times at C2C, built a solid fan base that allows her to headline her own tours, and even has an appearance at Nashville Meets London this summer. She’s become a firm favourite of the UK country community, and we absolutely adored her last album ‘Dream Country’ (our album of the year back in 2017). The release of her new album ‘Wonderland’ felt like a sort of barometer for how far she’s come – it shot straight to #1 on the country albums charts, a fitting reward for her dedication to the UK.

If you fell in love with ‘Dream Country’ and expected more of the same, you thought wrong. ‘Wonderland’, which she actually recorded in the UK, is a sonically different record production-wise, and she’s gone with the Kacey ‘Golden Hour’ ethereal style which seems to be flavour of the month right now. That’s not to say she’s abandoned her roots; there are plenty of very delicate, beautifully written tracks on offer. It’s refreshing to see an artist who doesn’t want to stand still and play it safe; it feels like a statement of intent from someone who isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of what she can achieve.

You’ll recognise the change in direction right from the opening of ‘Blue Sky’, one of the strongest tracks on the album. There’s an angelic delicacy about both the synthetic production and Sarah’s gorgeous vocals; a beautiful, optimistic-sounding soundtrack for your summer. This is followed up by instant-grat release, ‘Call Me’, which is as off-piste (in a good way!) as Sarah has ever been in terms of a pop influence. It’s a playful, infectious love song that will raise eyebrows of Sarah’s loyal listeners.

She’s worked with hugely experienced producers Mark Bright (Carrie Underwood & Rascal Flatts), Ash Howes (Dido, Goulding, & Kylie), Pete Hammerton (Wandering Hearts, Twinnie), and Jim Eliot (Goulding, Kylie, Christina Perri), and it’s had such a profound impact here as the production value and slickness of ‘Wonderland’ is stunning.

There are the fun moments like ‘Light It Up’, a good bet for a future single, but there are also really vulnerable moments like my personal favourite, ‘London Fog’. The phrase “less is more” couldn’t be more applicable; it’s just so simple but so breath-taking. Whatever the style, Sarah and her producers pull it off with such finesse, and it’s the finer details like the use of strings that elevate these songs to another level.

Another stand-out is the gritty dance-infused offering, ‘Enjoy The Ride’, which caught my attention right from the first listen. There’s a dark, atmospheric, almost Madonna-like vibe to this that jumps out from the rest of the album. A great, catchy groove that you can totally lose yourself in for a few minutes.

With another one of the instant-grat releases, ‘Fire’, we see a wonderful blend of the ‘Dream Country’ sound with a touch of the ‘Wonderland’ magic. It was an instant hit with fans at C2C this year and will no doubt become a permanent addition to her set lists; one of the more dramatic moments on the album and definitely one of the strongest. ‘Little Bit Of Rain’ will also be popular with those of you who fell in love with ‘Dream Country’ with its pedal steel and traditional feel, addressing a difficult life situation for the character involved with great depth and emotion.

‘Wonderland’ feels like a very complete album and one where every element has been very carefully thought out. It’s impossible to compare this album to her last; it’s a completely new chapter, showcasing her creative versatility. Can’t wait to hear some of this live at Nashville Meets London!

Dan Wharton
@LifeInASong_Dan