In another victory for independent music, Darling‘s wonderful voice gets the treatment it deserves on country songs that should appeal to almost anyone – that’s why she calls it “dream country...”

Label: Be Darling Records
Time: 10 tracks / 36 mins.
RIYL: Over the Rhine, Eddi Reader.

If Nashville-based Sarah Darling were a proper country singer, she wouldn’t be so unwaveringly optimistic. She’d stick to more typical songs like “Where Cowboys Ride,” an evocative paean to Wyoming’s golden fields and open skies.

But she makes dream country – her term for the far wider genre bracket she inhabits. A shimmering, reverby atmosphere swirls around her oh-so-pure voice; a gorgeously spacious production showcases its warmth; and the disc takes in occasional pop inflexions, one rockier track (“Tell that Devil,” where a bad relationship gets shown the door) and jazz styling from piano and some retro trumpet on "You Take Me All the Way".

Her lyrical interest is also wider than that of many Grand Ole Opry regulars: Catholic in both senses of the word, she also captures the romance of Paris’s “Montmartre” and sings of longing for England’s Cornish coast.

Darling’s faith is never explicit, but she has a mission: to dole out hope in buckets and point out the good things ahead, like guests about to turn on the light and reveal a surprise party.

At one time I had drafted that this is not an essential album. I have scrubbed that line. I have found myself turning to this, whether for longer car journeys or for playing at home. It’s both that gorgeous voice and the songs themselves that draw me. The chords seem standard enough, but their melodies are so easy to sing along to and I always find myself ready to play them through again after they have stopped – one advantage of a concise album.

Anyone who can take a track from such a misery-relishing band like the Smiths ("Please Please Please Let Me Get what I Want"), soak it in strings and make it part of their own dreamy sound has something special.

I might often be dismissive of such near-escapism, but the pleasure of this disc is considerable: “Wandering Star” hangs happily in the head; “Starry Eyes” is another that makes you sway while listening; bonus track "Stargazer" shimmers simply – have you spotted the lyrical theme yet? – and “Halley’s Comet” is eye-closingly beautiful.

Derek Walker