Darien Dean - If These Walls Could Talk (2009)

Darien Dean
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One of the greatest joys one gets as a music critic is getting exposed to incredible music and musicians light years ahead of the public. At times, it makes you feel like you are part of an insiders' club. Other times, you want to pull your hair out; dying for everyone to see and hear about a glimmering new talent ready to brighten the world. Yet, alas, you can't. Stop-start label deals, prolonged and overpriced product mastering, and a host of other unforeseen complications keep that all-too-important artist debut at bay. You drop nuggets and hints about the artist and the product that has been in high-rotation on your iPod for months all the while waiting for the day you can write that gushing review. Finally, that time has come: Darien is one of the most promising young artists on the independent soul scene and his freshman release, If These Walls Could Talk, proves it.

I am not alone in my sentiments regarding Darien.

One of the greatest joys one gets as a music critic is getting exposed to incredible music and musicians light years ahead of the public. At times, it makes you feel like you are part of an insiders' club. Other times, you want to pull your hair out; dying for everyone to see and hear about a glimmering new talent ready to brighten the world. Yet, alas, you can't. Stop-start label deals, prolonged and overpriced product mastering, and a host of other unforeseen complications keep that all-too-important artist debut at bay. You drop nuggets and hints about the artist and the product that has been in high-rotation on your iPod for months all the while waiting for the day you can write that gushing review. Finally, that time has come: Darien is one of the most promising young artists on the independent soul scene and his freshman release, If These Walls Could Talk, proves it.

I am not alone in my sentiments regarding Darien. A native of Mount Vernon, Darien has been dazzling NYC audiences at S.O.B.'s, Joe's Pub, The Sugar Shack, and the Blue Note for the last several years, most recently to sellout shows. At last summer's Soul Summit in Atlanta, Darien's performance proved one of the takeaway gems of the event, with audiences clutching advance copies of If These Walls Could Talk like Gollum hoarding his "precious." Anxious reviewers at sites like Echoes, Nu-Soul, SoulBounce, and Soul Interviews all jumped the gun with critical praise long before the album was available for purchase, eager to alert fans that the dreadlocked crooner had arrived ready to woo you with song. Stoking the buzz were Darien's featured guest spots on "The Road" from Purpose Music Group's 25 Strong documentary soundtrack, and "Alibi," from Reel People's Seven Ways To Wonder, the latter of which enjoyed several remixes and became an international club hit.

We too have done our bit of Darien praising around here at SoulTracks, publishing Darien interviews and news bits for nearly a year. We also introduced his songs "Composure" and "Holiday" to European audiences during our weekly Monday morning radio slot on the Dave Brown Radio Show (Sky Network satellite radio and SolarRadio.com). Four months later, "Composure" still enjoys high rotation and fan requests on the show-an anomaly for a song clocking in at over five-minutes.

One listen to the easy-going "Composure" explains what the fuss is all about. A clean groove with cascading piano accents and a carefree tenor gliding across a gently propulsive bassline, Darien delivers the kind of effortless performance on "Composure" that made Peabo Bryson the gentleman star of a generation. Darien's smooth tone is so light and sure that you almost ignore the intelligence of his self-penned lyrics and arrangements. The live feel of the sophisticated production has you playing out a sepia-toned video of the singer in black tie and tails, caressing an old school microphone against a backdrop of white Steinways and sequined doo wop singers. It's all so bright and chic, without ever losing a bit of authenticity, and that's just "Composure."

There are many worthy cuts other than "Composure" on If These Walls Could Talk, but only a few hit you with the immediacy of this tune and its sonic soul sister, "All Kinds of Things." The summertime parking lot jam, "Gone," the acoustic blue notes to bright two-step of the title cut, and the sweet gospel soul of the untitled bonus track are keepers that grab you right from the start. So does the ever-unfolding "Just Can't Wait," an artistic triumph with great commercial appeal. Here, Darien brilliantly incorporates new musical elements and subtle directional shifts every few bars without ever losing the cut's uplifting tempo. Bumping joints like "Showya" and "Love Revolution" will have you humming along in no time, as will the rest of this filler-free project. Since Darien is not your typical show-off-though he has some admirable belting chops-it may take a minute for his compositional intricacies on these understated tunes to sink in. And yet, I have no doubt that your guaranteed repeated listens will soon have you singing his praises.

Lyrically intimate, this organic debut is a sultry collection of mid-tempo grooves and jazzy ballads. Most of the songs take their time without meandering and Darien's highly controlled instrument is never less than on point. The rare problems on Darien's debut are minor and come in the form of some loose production threads hanging from a couple of-I suspect-older tracks, with "Saturday" and the melodically compelling "The Road" showing a little wear (though the latter is a lyrical favorite of mine). Otherwise, If These Walls Could Talk is a telling 360 debut from a multi-instrumental gentleman balladeer who romances listeners with a class that once seemed lost and is here found. Darien's walls do talk. They say: come a little closer for that pillow talk you've been missing. Highly Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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