A Love Letter to the American Southwest

Darden Smith


Western Skies started with the photographs, all of them taken with an old Polaroid camera resurrected from a box in my garage sometime in the summer of 2020. I don’t think of myself as a photographer, but I sure like to take pictures.

The idea of using such an outdated way of capturing images struck me as the perfect antidote to the hectic digital nature of these times. My usual way of working was to see something, stop the car, take the photo then immediately get back in and drive off, letting it develop in a box on the front seat as the miles clicked over. I had one shot, maybe two, for each idea and there were many, many mistakes. Part of the joy was the randomness of it, and having almost zero control over how the image came out. It’s kind of a ridiculous and expensive way to work. Each shot cost about as much as a good espresso, so that became my calculator: Was this picture worth a coffee? If not, I’d just walk away. After a time, I found myself not taking almost as many photos as I did.

The songs came together as the months of the pandemic wore on. Some are new, others were older pieces of things that I reworked. Both “Los Angeles” and “Western Skies” were based on lyrics that had been hiding in my piano bench for a decade or so. The essays began as a collection of random thoughts and observations scribbled in a notebook during my travels.



It was only during a three-day recording session at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas, with just myself and an engineer, Mario Ramirez, that I could see how the project worked as a whole. It occurred to me as I was standing outside watching the dusk settle on the pecan groves surrounding the studio on the last night of recording that the three parts hung together as one. And it was a book. With music. Before that, it was just a bunch of songs, a box of photos, and a notebook.

Texas, and the American Southwest in general, is a big, beautiful place. There’s a lot to love about it. And then there’s the other part, which makes me shake my head in wonder. Western Skies isn’t “about” anywhere in particular. It’s a love song to the mythology of Texas. Not the heroic, Wild West version, but the one that lives only in my head. I’ve spent a long time looking at it, and thankfully, I wrote a few things down.






© 2022 by Darden Smith / Bull By The Horns. Permission has been granted to use these images.

Additional Cover Image: Pixabay (Creative Commons).

For additional information or to purchase Western Skies, visit DardenSmith.com.


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