Darling West are Norwegian duo Mari and Tor Egil Kreken, partners in life and music. A little research reveals quite a buzz about this pair who have spent considerable time Stateside with great success. This is their fourth album and a look through the back pages of AUK reveals an almost universal appreciation of their career thus far.
Influences cited by the duo include Fleetwood Mac, The Byrds, Jackson Browne and Gillian Welch, but my first thought was of Alison Krauss minus violin. Darling West are happy to acknowledge their pop sensibility and ‘Top-Down Wind in the Hair’ approach as described in their press release. You may find that this is not where they excel, although in terms of making that kind of music they are clearly very good. However, I think when they stretch their wings a little the rewards are greater.
It may be that they have moved on since their last offerings but I do not detect the Nordic influences identified by others and listened blind Darling West could be from the States both vocally and lyrically. True, the sound is open and spacey and it might be easy to use descriptors involving snow and ice but I’m not sure they are appropriate. Having heard them both interviewed it seems that the Kreken’s speak fluent, unaccented, Americanised English; it might be then that they are fully acclimatised to their adopted country. Lucinda William’s description of ‘Cosmic Folk’ perhaps over eggs what is basically a straightforward, polished, approach to music that relies on beautiful voices and sympathetic accomplished musicianship. Tor Egil is described as one of the most sought after musicians in his homeland and the evidence is clear.
The songs here are relationship inspired and there is little to stir controversy. ‘When Mountains Fall’ deals with the subject of loss, complete with a funereal backing. ‘Try’, encourages perseverance; however, on this album, you won’t find any overt political content, but then that would not seem to be the Kreken’s aim.
The opening tracks, ‘Hey There’, ‘Make it last’, and, ‘Can’t Help It’, perfectly illustrate the poppier side of this album with that open and clear production, engaging vocals and some clean, lucid guitar playing which is particularly enjoyable. ‘Can’t Help It’, features that, ‘tires on the road feel,’ perfected by Mick Fleetwood, as well as excellent solo guitar. There are four additional musicians on the album who bring a delightful range of instruments to proceedings – Mellotron, Kalimba, Harmonica, Mandolin, Omnichord (an electronic musical instrument, but best looked up!), Dulcimer, Banjo – a very rich musical stew.
‘The Calling’, has a great background vocal chant, ‘River’, is bass and percussion-heavy and both songs are thus lifted above the level of the rest of the album. ‘Home’, includes the best lyric, ‘You Loved too Little / I Guess I loved too much / Quite unfortunate for both of us’. Delightfully droll and impressive that they can get, ‘unfortunate’, to scan so well. Lyrically it reminded me of Lyle Lovett at his bleakest.
The standout track ‘True Friends’ is irresistibly, foot tappingly, catchy and would surely have made a great single release – you may well agree that it would have been a perfect choice.
‘Mountains Fall Down’, closes the album with a sparse banjo-driven arrangement and sentiments about loss and how people respond, ‘How they all started to flinch and look the other way / And none of them had a single thing to say’.
What I think you will find here is a duo who have thoroughly absorbed the American and Americana influence. They are capable of excellent though unchallenging pop / West Coast stylings but there is plenty here to suggest musical flair and originality beyond that. And on that basis, I would thoroughly recommend.