After three chart topping albums and a string of career singles, country fans probably think they know the music of Darryl Worley. Hits like "I Miss My Friend," "A Good Day to Run" and "Have You Forgotten," easily confirm his stature as one of the premier "new traditionalists" in country music. But with his 2004 DreamWorks Records collection, Darryl Worley, he delivers an album that completely reinvents him as an artist. The songwriting, his vocal performances, the sound quality, the energy level and the sheer musicality of this album are all a leap beyond anything he has done to date.
Worley's self-titled effort begins optimistically enough with "Awful Beautiful Life," a microcosm of life's joys, frustrations, and sorrows that he co-wrote with Harley Allen. It and the throwaway "Was It Good for You" cover the upbeat side. Otherwise, this is a dour, dark collection fraught with shattered relationships, occasional violence, death, and alcohol-soaked pessimism. The album's war song, "If Something Should Happen," personalizes overseas troops' anxiety about family at home. Clever arrangements mesh with Worley's flawless performances, particularly the sparse New Orleans-flavored "Work and Worry," a clever cautionary about laboring oneself into the grave. "If It Hadn't Been For Love," the lament of a stalker who went too far, is both lyrically and musically foreboding. Worley clearly doesn't see patriotism merely in terms of flag-waving. He co-wrote "Wake Up America," which graphically laments small-town America's raging hard-drug epidemic. Given radio's continuing obsession with upbeat, flippant fluff, it's to his credit he eschewed rose-colored glasses to focus on what Porter Wagoner once called "The Cold Hard Facts of Life." --Rich Kienzle