Sarah Darling was a new name to many country fans in the UK when she appeared on a pop-up stage at Country 2 Country last year. The 34 year old Nashville based Iowan had already put in the groundwork Stateside ahead of her UK trip. Way back in 2003 she appeared on E!’s The Entertainer, where she finished in the Top 3 but was advised Las Vegas shouldn’t be her end goal, that she should focus on Nashville. She took the advice and released two strong albums, Every Monday Morning and Angels & Devils, followed by 2 EPs, Home To Me and Have A Merry Little Christmas Darling. With the albums not breaking into the mainstream, she once again tried the TV talent show format, appearing on ABC’s Rising Star. Eliminated in the fourth week, she returned to the drawing board and compiled her third studio album, Dream Country.
Presented in a bright white sleeve with a forlorn Sarah dressed in white adorning the cover, the album appears understated and rather uninteresting. All that changes as soon as you open the cover and view the wonderfully designed map of the record that forms the inlay booklet. A lot of time and effort has been made by Sarah and her team to ensure the product has a personal touch and it is a truly engaging and entertaining accompaniment to the album.
Now to the music. Foreign Country is proof that you should not judge an album by its cover alone. Foreign Country is an album that not just warrants your attention, it captures your imagination and takes you a magical journey that gets more beautiful with each listen.
While the album title suggests an ethereal tone to the record, the songs themselves are more direct pop country than they are earthy. That is not to say there is not a dreamy element to some of the softer moments, but it is not as delicate as the album, or even Sarah’s live shows in the UK to date might suggest.
At her feistiest she delivers the romping Tell That Devil. Fans of TV series Nashville will naturally recognise this as a Juliette Barnes cut, which should make it harder for Sarah to really own the song – but it most certainly does not. She proves that she can rock out with the best of them, and that if she chose to be the Britney of country, then she could be.
Opting to leave that to Britney’s own little sister Jamie-Lynn, Sarah is at her strongest when she reigns it all in and lets her emotional delivery take centre stage. Her cover of The Smiths’ Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want transforms the hit and nearly transcends the original.
While she is clearly capable of striking renditions of songs penned by others, it is actually her own compositions that make the heart flutter the fastest. From the determined opener Wandering Star to the dreamy Where Cowboys Ride and wistful You Take Me All The Way, her own compositions tell a story that will take your soul on the journey the album imagery suggests.
If pushed for a criticism of Dream Country, it would be that it simply does not last long enough. The blissful journey to Sarah’s mind is a little over 30 minutes and even double that would simply not be enough. If there is any justice in this world, Dream Country will be the big break that Sarah has worked hard for over the last decade and a half.