Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs Of Christmas may well be the best Christmas album of the holiday season.
Mary Chapin Carpenter rose to prominence in the early 1990s due to her multi-million selling album, Come On, Come On, which placed seven different tracks on the country charts. Such songs as “Down At The Twist and Shout” and “Passionate Kisses” would cross over onto the pop charts and become hits. She received the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance four years in a row (1992-1995). During the last decade her songs have become more political and socially oriented.
Like many artists she decided to release a Christmas album. However, unlike many of her contemporaries, she has followed a road less traveled. This is not an album of traditional songs but rather contains six original compositions by Carpenter plus six more new or rarely recorded tunes. They all add up to one of the most unique holiday releases in memory as it presents the emotions of the season for the thinking person.
Carpenter was also smart enough to avoid the lush orchestration that is present on most holiday releases. She strips the songs to their basics with acoustic guitar and piano being the most prominent backing instruments. While she is mostly known as a country artist with pop leanings, this release has a folk feel to it which fits the songs well.
The title track, “Come Darkness, Come Light,” is one of the best songs she has written during her career. It can be considered a modern day hymn that combines the traditional Christian story of a baby in Bethlehem with finding rest for the weary. Of equal quality is the beautiful and poignant “Christmas Carol.” This is a personal song that will hopefully resonate with her listeners. Her tale of receiving the Beatles White Album on Christmas day of 1968 made me think of all the albums I had received for Christmas, especially those of my youth. The lyrics present the wonderful journey of Christmas in a memorable way.
There are quality tracks that she did not write as well. “Hot Buttered Rum” is a clever love song cloaked in Christmas imagery. “Still, Still, Still” is a traditional Christmas song that is rarely presented. She brings a very gentle vocal performance to this simple song of quietness. “On A Quiet Christmas Morn” creates a sense of calmness as life comes to a peaceful stop on Christmas morning.
Why Mary Chapin Carpenter is not one of the biggest stars in country or pop music is beyond me? Her vision in putting together this Christmas album and her brilliant vocal expertise in accomplishing that vision are remarkable. Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs Of Christmas should become essential holiday listening.