The Darling Downs: From One to Another

By: Sarah Hagerman

The sepia-soaked shadows of The Darling Downs' sophomore album, From One to Another (Carrot Top Records), contrast sharply with the lush green meadows and expansive blue sky of the area that shares their name in southern Queensland, Australia. The duo of Kim Salmon (The Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon, The Surrealists) on banjo and guitar and Ron Peno (Died Pretty) on vocals and hand-clapping, foot-stomping human percussion, create a swept cabin acoustic record, lovingly crafted from an Americana palate. This duo of influential Aussies capture the soul-weariness of later day Johnny Cash, sometimes with the whoop and snarl of neo-bluesman Possessed By Paul James, all spun around graceful melodies that dance across your gray matter. It's rough heartache and woolly wiles soak in your marrow, and somewhere along the line, you realize this is a quietly tremendous album.

If there's some lost love, they are never sketched in clear terms, just brief snatches, shreds of photographs spread on an attic floor. Peno's startlingly raw voice can serve as a guiding light, and he can reveal more in his inflection of phrases than a whole slew of bleeding-heart singer-songwriters when he sighs about "angels pandering" ("A Moment of Despair") or growls, with gritted teeth determination, "I will be redeemed" ("Redeemed"). In "Everytime We Say Goodbye," he intones with silt, "You're the sound of broken glass/ Whose made me shed my skin at last," over Salmon's leisurely, lovely slide guitar, while on "The Only Home I've Ever Known," he sings softly, almost like a lullaby, while Salmon hypnotically picks. But there is plenty of fire in Peno's belly when he yelps with prickly fervor on "Gather Round (Stomp it Down)," proclaiming repeatedly, "Jesus died before me! Jesus died before me!" The unearthly groans and the bellows are a tap straight to the dark side. Salmon meanwhile, paints a sparsely beautiful landscape for Peno's vocals. He leaves out the polish, as you would expect from a harbinger of the grunge movement, slipping into haunting soundscapes that are rooted in the back porch but have eyes facing out towards an unfolding horizon.

Coming after the chills of "Redeemed," "There's a Light. Pt 2" projects born-again glow with a sort of campfire sing-along, complete with tambourines. Finally, the album ends with "Somewhere There's a Place." I want to curl up with this song's soothing melody. It's like comfort at the end of a long night. The kind of night where you've been awake, chewing the insides of your cheeks and killing a pack of cigarettes, but when dawn comes you're gratefully still standing and a long-ignored mattress is finally calling. Salmon's hauntingly graceful banjo rocks you in its arms, a tinny harmonica hums, while Peno sings, "You're the tower that's been quietly standing/ You're the dream I had when I was mending/ Now I'm sad that I have wasted all your time/ But somewhere there's a place where I'll be fine." The album leaves us this way, like a note on the kitchen table, a swinging screen door, an empty driveway and hope for understanding further down the road.

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