SEAN MICHAEL DARGAN
A Little Bit Distracted…
(2023 Slightly Charred Records)
Yes, he’s tall and dresses like a magician but really, Sean Michael Dargan and his SMD Band deserve more credit.
Dargan is an avowed lover of songwriter style in the mold of his idols Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. Also the Beatles as evidenced by his dedication to their music in local tribute act Madison Mystery Tour. But that’s not all; he also leads the Mersey Brothers, a group dedicated to ‘80s new wave/alt rock covering the likes of The Cure, Crowded House, REM and The Knack. Moreover, you may have seen Dargan parading around the square in full Scottish kilt, playing his bagpipes. Dargan is also an advisor to the Student Music Committee at UW-Madison.
Dargan has a couple other passions as well. He loves basketball and plays a lot of pickup. Dargan manages the Montreal Expos, a baseball team that is part of the Men’s Adult Baseball League of Southern Wisconsin. In 2022 he was inducted into the 2022 class of the Men’s Senior Baseball National Hall of Fame, quite an honor. He plays several positions including catcher, first baseman, third baseman, and even pitcher.
At the age of 55, Dargan clearly does not have slowing down on his agenda. All that exercise probably fuels his musical energy and there is no shortage of that on his fine new album A Little Bit Distracted…released in April of this year. Dargan released an EP in 2021 called Maximum SMD Vol. 1 but this is his first full-length since 2010’s Snap Your Fingers and Stomp Your Feet. While the 2021 EP was recorded without the musicians in the same room it came off sounding a little flat, though the songs were SMD-quality. That’s not the case with A Little Bit Distracted… which bristles with power-pop vitality in the mode of the Raspberries and REM. The album was recorded by Audrey Martinovich at Audio for the Arts with mixing by Jeff Covert back in Fredericksburg, VA, Dargan’s old stomping ground. A Little Bit Distracted… is chock full of finely-crafted, upbeat tunes with smooth departures, hooky melodies and spot-on harmonies; perfect vehicles for Dargan’s wordsmithing. Dargan’s live delivery is also so cheery, even sweating it out in the sun in a full suit and bowtie. No, his music won’t change your world but it might brighten it up a bit.
Opener “Got No Questions” is a perfect slice of jangly guitars and stick-in-your-head harmonies. Expertly propelled by the rhythm section of Joe Lampe (bass) and Bill Guetschow (drums). Guetschow’s vocal harmonies blend with Dargan’s leads like frosting on a magnificent piece of chocolate cake.
“Two Worlds” is another standout. Here Dargan twists the expectations to “two worlds become none.” Aaron Scholz appears on a couple of tracks playing Hammond organ; “Only This Moment” and “Permanent Impermanence,” the latter’s riff sounding vaguely familiar.
“No Power Over Me” provides social commentary: “We’ve been sold one big, fat, hairy lie / He who dies with the most toys still dies / It’s a fantasy, we must stay strong / What we need we’ve had all along.” The song has a heavier quality as does “Give Me Away All Day for Free,” which sounds a lot like Green-era REM.
Only one song eclipses the four-minute mark; “Open hands,” a remake of the first song on Dargan’s first album from 1994. It’s the only track to feature horns which are given a lengthy play-out in the coda. A side-by-side comparison reveals that Dargan has more youthful energy than he did thirty years ago.
A Little Bit Distracted… is a power-pop gem and – like virtually all Madison releases – deserves more attention. It’s uncomplicated but not without lyrical depth and that is the stock and trade the songsmith. You know, at his age, and with all his other interests, Dargan could just coast with the cover bands he’s in. It’s clear he just loves to play and, especially, to write. Our city is blessed with an abundance of these folks, making us just a little richer and hopefully a little more appreciative.