Darryl Worley,
Have You Forgotten?
(SKG/DreamWorks, 2003)

Let's start by stating that I'm not a fan of country music. My taste runs to Elvis Costello, Toad the Wet Sprocket and Beth Orton. But there are certainly elements of country in the music of each of these artists, as well as an attention to lyrics that moves their compositions beyond easy categorization. Darryl Worley, too, is a lyric-based composer, a songwriter with something to say.

Worley's core message for 2003 is that Americans should have a tremendous respect for the men and women of the armed forces, and that the United States was right to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. This isn't a Springsteen tribute to the courage and dedication of the police and fire department workers during a tragedy. Songs like "Have You Forgotten?" are a defense of Bush administration foreign policy. "I hear people saying we don't need this war, I say there's some things worth fighting for. What about our freedom and this piece of ground? We didn't get to keep 'em by backing down."

There are only four new tracks on Have You Forgotten? with the remaining dozen songs drawn from a pair of earlier recordings. But Worley's message comes through loud and strong in his choice of the opening three songs on this compilation. He leads off with the title track and a second new song, "I Will Hold My Ground." Then comes "POW 369," a Steven Dale Jones composition first included on Worley's I Miss My Friend album (2002). While overtly political messages can frequently make a song embarrassingly clumsy, (how many rhymes can you think of for Bin Laden?), Worley manages to mesh his message and his music quite effectively.

It would have been easy, but also blatantly unfair of me, to dismiss this album simply because I don't agree with Worley's political stance. And with much of the musical community voicing -- and in the case of REM and Lenny Kravitz singing -- anti-war sentiments, it's interesting to hear music from the other side of the political spectrum. It's also interesting to see how bumpy the transitions into and out of the political songs are. After the closing notes of "POW 369," Worley heads off on vacation and downs some margaritas in "I Need a Breather." The song, which is extremely lightweight to begin with, fares particularly badly as track four on this album. But after three tracks of relentless patriotism I did in fact need a breather.

My favorite track on Have You Forgotten? is the final new composition, "Shiloh." It returns, rather more smoothly, to war imagery but in a subtler and to my mind more effective way. The song looks back at the Civil War through the eyes of an awe-struck tourist. The poignant lyric, "standing in the presence of the past" and a beautiful string arrangement combine to make this song a real stand out.

On the back half of the album, well-crafted melodies are the rule of thumb with tracks like "A Good Day to Run" and "When You Need My Love" drawn from the album Hard Rain Don't Last (2000). But perhaps my biggest problem with Worley also becomes more evident here -- it's all quite good. The melodies are catchy, the production is clean and crisp. But too many potentially rough edges have been smoothed out, leaving us with a very professional but decidedly anonymous production. Worley's vocals are the one place where a rawer feel is allowed to shine through and I suspect that his live show would lend many tracks an energy that's become suppressed in the studio. Hopefully at some point he'll work with a producer who can capture the surety and texture of Worley's lyrics and can also lend the songs more of a Steve Earle energy and edginess. Now that would be an album to hear!

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 28 June 2003

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