Born in Alabama, raised in Texas, and currently based in rural central Tennessee, JD Darling has been steeped in country music his entire life. His new album, ‘Looking Forward Thinking Back’, reflects on this lifelong immersion, while also showcasing an unwavering dedication to his craft and commitment to carrying the canon forward.
The album’s title is not just a clever phrase, but a statement of purpose. While the music within may contain elements of traditional country, it’s far from a passive nostalgia trip. Darling’s work is a modern expression of his love for 90s-era country radio — quite literally at times, as on the track ‘1995’. He channels familiar country themes through a genuine and authentic voice, complemented by a live-band energy that imbues each song with immediacy and intimacy.
Following the approach from his debut ‘Bolt from the Blue’ EP, Darling’s songwriting is a reflection of his own lived experiences and those of the people around him, a refreshing contrast to the market-tested formulas that often dominate the airwaves today. These aren’t songs born from a stuffy writing room session; rather, most of them were born out of the solitude Darling found while tending to his farm in Hampshire, Tennessee.
“Writing this album took me about 140 acres and a few back porch sessions,” he notes with a chuckle. “I often find inspiration while doing tractor work on the farm and usually work on my lyrics then.”
While listeners will certainly find plenty of tried-and-true country subject matter on ‘Looking Forward Thinking Back’, Darling’s approach to storytelling is deeply personal while remaining universally accessible. His lyrics and melodies are crafted to evoke a range of emotions — from the wistful longing of ‘All I Ever Wanted’ to the hopeful existentialism of ‘You Can Feel It’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ — giving equal attention to the contrasts of life’s daily struggles as well as peak experiences we all aspire to.
Recorded over several sessions between Nashville’s Saxman Studios and the legendary Sound Emporium, Darling felt he had a good idea of what he hoped to accomplish stylistically before entering the studio. However, as he emphasizes, the ultimate goal was to make a record that would move listeners, allowing the sessions and personnel to ultimately take the vision where it needed to go.
“Recording with a room full of amazing musicians always brings an organic element,” he remarks on the fluid nature of tracking live in a room. “Sometimes you have to go with the flow when something different is better. For me, recording is about capturing a moment in my life, and sometimes things change a lot because it’s also capturing a shared moment in the lives of five or six other people.”
This throughline is a constant in Darling’s process; from initial inspiration, to songwriting, to recording and beyond, it’s an experiential journey focused on capturing moments more than it is about achieving a predetermined end by any means necessary. The result is a truly singular output that’s sure to resonate with listeners from all walks of life.