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Music Review: Darren – Instant Gratification

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With a sweet vocal style blending tenderness and gut, Maryland-based singer-songwriter Darren Smith delivers an assertive sophomore album focused on commitment and independence. He employs soulful phrasing and dynamics over acoustically-driven ballads bearing subtle hints of rock and blues—making for a distinctively calm listening experience amidst the often cluttered world of commercial pop.

Darren CD back cover shotSave for one misguided track that relies on outdated programming and a negative lyrical stance (“I Am”), Instant Gratification satisfies via consistently reflective and melodic content with a unique voice. One of the set’s strongest numbers is “Until the End,” an engaging mid-paced tune replete with understated piano fills and guitar strumming backing up Darren’s soft testimony of weathering the storm. Later on, the pensive “Worth Fighting For” speaks to reconciling the past with a brave new face. The jazzy supporting vocals of Michael L. Gary, II, add a notable ambiance to the message.

Other standout moments on Instant Gratification include the self-sufficiency anthem, “Gone,” and the strong-minded “Be Myself Again.” The former finds Darren coming to terms with a one-sided relationship: “I blame myself, but is it true?/I’ve done all that I could do for you.” Meanwhile, “Be Myself Again” deals with the emotional aftermath of straying from inner truth: “I repent, but the feeling just won’t go away…I swear, I’m someone else/I just wanna be myself.”

The disc closes with “Forgive U,” a melancholy tune that conveys a small amount of hope through dealing with regret. The honest uncertainty channeled by the lyrics and Darren’s vulnerable performance is strikingly true to life—and an exemplary indicator of the far-reaching authenticity found throughout Instant Gratification.

About Justin Kantor

Justin Kantor is a music journalist with a passion for in-depth artist interviews and reviews. Most of his interviews for Blogcritics can be heard on his Blog Talk Radio program, "Rhythmic Talk." Justin's work has been published in Wax Poetics, The All-Music Guide, and SoulMusic.com. A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Music Business and Management program, he honed his writing chops as a teenager—publishing "The Hip Key" magazine from 1992-1996. The publication, which was created out of his childhood home in Virginia Beach, reached a circulation of 10,000 by the time he was 16. At Berklee, Justin continued to perfect his craft with a series of 'Underrated Soul' features for The Groove from 1997-2003. This led to a companion TV show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network in 2002, as well as writing for the national Dance Music Authority (DMA). A self-described "obscure pop, dance, and R&B junkie," Justin also has penned liner notes for reissue labels such as Edsel Records and FunkyTownGrooves. He's excited to be a part of the BlogCritics team and indulge his musical fancies even further. Connect with him at his Facebook page, or via krystolfan@gmail.com.