Darren Smith: 'Dogtown Mines'

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Seattle-based folk musician Darren Smith. hide caption

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Though he now lives in Seattle, folk musician Darren Smith grew up across Washington's eastern border in the small college town of Moscow, ID. With a secluded population of only 22,000, Moscow bills itself as the "Heart of the Arts." It might sound like an unlikely title, but Moscow, ID is also the home of singer-songwriter Josh Ritter. "Maybe it's the cold winters and isolation that brings out the artistic drive in people," Smith says.

Darren Smith got his start in the Seattle-based alt-country band Straw Dogs. On his solo debut, Last Drivehe steeps his songs in the nostalgia of rural America. There are several noteworthy moments on the album, like the earnest ballad "Goodnight Stars" and the toe-tapping country tune "Someday." But the highlight of Last Drive is its opening track, "Dogtown Mines."

"I was determined to write a story song, so I wanted it to stand on its own even without music," says Smith of the lyrically-powerful track. It only takes one listen to know that he's succeeded, because long after "Dogtown Mines" ends, its haunting narrative remains. "I heard you wed the brother of a dear old friend / With your family and your new found love with you 'til the end," he sings of a man separated from the woman he loves. To add another intriguing dimension to the song, Smith notes that it was written and recorded on a toy guitar that he picked up at a garage sale for $5.

"It's been referred to as a mandolin, banjo, steel guitar," he says. "But it's really a toy guitar. I still love writing on it."

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