People whose first exposure to Darden Smith is a listen to Sunflower will be surprised that he began as a country artist. The tone throughout this album is of a modern singer/songwriter -- with a jazz-influenced backing group -- who is very strong at both singing and writing. His lyrics here are lovely, and he has a warm, emotional voice that puts them across with power and delicacy. In particular, "Satellite" is aimed straight at the adult contemporary hit market, with intelligent, wistful lyrics about a lover who will never commit to a permanent relationship. Sunflower has several songs in this vein -- not about delirious first love, but about the long-term consequences of decisions and the twists in relationships. Not surprisingly, such topics tend toward philosophical and poetic sentiments, and Smith delivers them with effortless grace. On "New Gospel," the sentiments are overtly and interestingly religious, with lyrics comparing epiphany to new love, offering the possibility of a whole new set of rules to suit new circumstances. This song is followed by the final cut, the most personal and immediate on the album. "Swept Away" is a catalog of sensual moments with a lover, brief touches and embraces that mean much more than any casual watcher might guess. This song, like most of the rest of Sunflower, is mature, passionate, and thoughtful. Such intelligent material is a rarity in American pop, and all the more welcome for it.
by Richard Foss