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Alone Again, Naturally

After riding with the majors, born loner Darden Smith learns it's easier to drive yourself

Columbia eventually dropped Smith from its roster after lukewarm sales. "I thought I would immediately skip into another fabulous record deal and, once again, achieve my place in the realms of pop stardom," he explains in a facetiously self-effacing tone. "But it didn't work out that way." His last album of new material was Deep Fantastic Blue in 1996, recorded for a label run by his manager at the time. "The record went nowhere. But I've built a career on that, actually."

Even if it has taken Smith five years to start preparing for another album of new material, he says he's enjoying music more than ever these days. Having taken up piano, he started composing for the Johnson/Long Dance Company in Austin. Then he got a call from the Austin Symphony, inviting him to perform with the orchestra. "I told them the only way I'd do it is if they let me write a whole new instrumental piece, and do it as a collaboration with the dance company, take it or leave it, thinking, thankfully, I just talked myself out of that gig," he says. The orchestra administration didn't go for the idea, but its conductor Peter Bay had the final word -- and he went for it.

"Once he said yes, I was terrified," Smith admits. "I stayed away from it for eight months because I was afraid of failure. Then they finally called me and asked me what the title was. I said, 'Uh, I'll have to get back to you on that.' Because I didn't have a clue." But with the help of an orchestrator, Smith came up with Grand Motion, which the symphony presented for two nights in Austin in November 1999.

Extra! Extra! Darden Smith relives his past for a brighter future.
Michael O'Brien
Extra! Extra! Darden Smith relives his past for a brighter future.

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Thursday, February 8 (713)528-5999
McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk

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Now there's Extra Extra, a recording session whose old tunes, Smith discovered, had matured like vintage bottles of wine -- they had developed new character over time. "It was interesting to sing songs that were written, some of them, ten to 12 years ago, and find that they mean different things as time goes on, and they resonate differently for me now." Would it be fair to assume that the same thing happens for the listener? "One would hope," quips Smith.

Approaching 40 years old, Smith says, "I like making music outside of the music business. You realize that there's a million ways to make music and get paid for it. I don't have to be a kid anymore, and I really enjoy that. I don't have to pretend that I am reaching for a brass ring, and in some ways I shoot higher than I ever have."

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