Chris Darrow

Artist Proof

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Chris Darrow may not be well known to the populace at large, but in Los Angeles recording studios he certainly is. As a multi-instrumentalist, producer, engineer, and singer, Darrow was an integral part of developing the "Nashville West"/country-rock sound as we know it today. He was a founding member of Kaleidoscope with David Lindley, and has played on works by Leonard Cohen, Gene Vincent, James Taylor, John Stewart, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Linda Ronstadt, Hoyt Axton, and John Fahey, to name a few. Along the way, Darrow released a slew of his own records. Drag City, which has been reissuing classic works of Americana, has remastered and repackaged his 1972 debut, Artist Proof, in handsome fashion. The original album and art are reproduced with a bonus handful of demos -- some of which were recorded at Sergio Mendes' studio. Darrow plays acoustic, electric, and slide guitars, as well as Dobro, mandolin, fiddle, marimba, and kalimba. The music on these 17 cuts is classic L.A. country-rock. Fans of the early Flying Burrito Brothers and post-Sweetheart of the Rodeo Byrds will hear the Nashville West sound as it drew heavily from Bakersfield country music. While Gram Parsons' influence looms large, Darrow is a fine songwriter on his own. Check the whining pedal steel and singalong choruses in "Shawnee Moon," or the Laurel Canyon-inflected singer/songwriter drama in the tender "Lovers Sleep Abed Tonight." The only cover on the set is Floyd Chance and Jimmy C. Newman's faux Cajun "Alligator Man," where Darrow's production, driven by swirling multi-tracked fiddles, a tight bassline, and cracking snare, makes it a near psychedelic exercise in back-porch stomp. "New Zoot" is '70s country boogie at its best. "The Sky Is Not Blue Today," with its use of marimba and kalimba, melds Cajun fiddle to folk and country in an intoxicating tearjerker. Darrow's not a great singer, but he's not bad either. Besides, when your backing vocalists are Jennifer Warnes and Claudia Lennear, who cares? This is not a "lost classic" per se, but a seminal recording. It nails the very seam where the Nashville West era made its last stand, just before it tipped toward the meld of soft rock and country-rock heard on the Eagles' debut, Poco's Crazy Eyes, and the early Pure Prairie League and embraced by the record-buying public in large numbers. Artist Proof isn't as polished or as tame as these records are; Darrow liked his edges and his record is better for it. Artist Proof is solid and enduring; it shows its age to be sure, but that's part of its charm.

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