As New England singer-songwriter Mark Erelli’s new album begins, his lyrics are focused on the clouds and the light, as much as the darkness. It’s a beautiful song about waiting until life shifts just enough to feel hope again, before moving on. That would be all the song was about, and it would be enough, if it weren’t written by a man who has a degenerative eye condition (retinitis pigmentosa). Suddenly the idea of waiting for the clouds to part—the central premise of the song “Break in the Clouds”—takes on new heft.
It’s a weighty opening to Erelli’s latest offering, Lay Your Darkness Down, which releases today. But then, weighty songs are nothing new for Erelli.
As it unfolds, it becomes clear that this is an album about surrender and welcome and the sort of mercy that comes from understanding you have no choice in a matter, so you may as well find love and peace in it all.
To boot, the songs are just really good.
“You’re Gonna Wanna Remember This”—which Erelli co-wrote with Lori McKenna, for whom he’s long been a sideman—has a perfect pop chorus. It drips with intuitive melody, leaning toward a bridge that modulates the rest of the song to exactly the right place. It feels like a meeting of Carole King and Billy Joel.
It’s followed by “Fuel for the Fire,” with its memorable guitar lines, with Anthony da Costa sitting in. “The Man I Am” gives Erelli’s strong, soulful vocals plenty of room to soar. “Sense of Wonder” is an easy highlight—a beautiful, insightful love song about all there is to appreciate in the world.
“Is It Enough” raises the question of whether it’s “enough to be loved”—presumably when everything else starts to get so hard. (“Do you know what you have? Almost nobody does. / Is it enough, enough to be loved?”) The guitar solo that pins the song on an instrumental bridge delivers sweet arpeggios, harmonized by bitter, dissonant dyads.
The title track is a tribute to the late singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, who died in 2020. As Erelli wanders outside after a storm and takes in a beautiful sunset, he thinks about the beauty his friend won’t witness on this Earthly plain again. (“Rest easy, brother, travel light / you had your mama’s eyes but you were your father’s son.”)
“Love Wins in the Long Run” closes the cycle. It’s a rocking bit of optimism, which packs a chorus of friends, whom he calls the Three Mile Island Singers: Kristin Andreassen, Dinty Child, Rose Cousins, Kris Delmhorst, Dave Godowsky, Annie Lynch, Rose Polenzani, Charlie Rose, Dietrich Strause, and Sean Staples. It’s the sort of song that carries lyrics we all know to be true, even though that truth is hard to access in the hardest times.
Thus, Erelli’s delicious catharsis leaves us all with a catchy chorus that will be much easier to call to mind when we need it most. That is the beauty of songwriting done well.
Lay Your Darkness Down is available HERE.