Come darkness, come light: A playlist for a less than merry Christmas

Last year, Amy Grant released “Tennessee Christmas,” her first new Christmas album in almost 20 years. Tracks included a duet with her husband, Vince Gill, on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” some original songs and renditions of old favorites such as “White Christmas” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Since Grant is a Christian artist, the announcement that Lifeway Christian stores would not carry the CD caused a bit of controversy. The company did not provide a reason for the decision. However, Grant’s manager, Jennifer Cooke, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which she suggested Lifeway didn’t want the album because it wasn’t “Christian enough.” Grant has heard that charge before, of course. Over 25 years after she was accused of being a sellout for crossing over from contemporary Christian to pop and further angering fans with her divorce and subsequent remarriage, Grant’s music has matured along with her. Her 2013 release, “How Mercy Looks from Here,” is the work of a woman who has grappled with grief, struggled with self-perfection and embraced grace. So it should have been no surprise when Grant chose to release a contemplative Christmas album. The track “Melancholy Christmas,” co-written by Grant, attracted attention for addressing how the holidays create or exacerbate feelings of loneliness. In “Another Merry Christmas,” Grant acknowledges a woman spending the holidays in a nursing home, a soldier living with PTSD and a mother who has lost a child. The visual of a mother hanging three stockings where four once were hit me especially hard as I was writing this column on the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Death took a member of the Daily Mountain Eagle family earlier this month, and I’m sure many of our readers are facing their first holiday without a loved one this year. Others are feeling a heaviness of spirit this year for different reasons. Whatever those may be, I know from experience that the lyrics to “Holly Jolly Christmas” don’t have much to offer someone going through the motions. Thankfully, over the years I’ve found Christmas music that does feel meaningful to me when the normal trappings of the season feel as fake as trees that come in a box. Recently, I discovered Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas.” In the past week, I have found myself drawn again and again to the low-key arrangements and thoughtful lyrics. The title track has felt like an invitation to keep searching for the light: “Come broken, come whole, come wounded in your soul...come doubting, come sure, come fearful to this door, come see what love is for.” Here are other artists and albums I recommend for anyone looking for less sparkle and more substance in Christmas music this year. •Album: “Advent & Christmas 2015” by The Many Favorite Track: “Longest Nights” Sample lyric: “You shouldn’t be here tonight. It doesn’t seem quite right...Where there’s a hundred words for pain, how could you end up in this place?” •Album: “All the Earth Rejoice” by Folk Angel Favorite Track: “He Knows” (spoken word) Sample lyric: “Because of these things He is able to say the two words that every sheep longs to hear, two words that sound so beautiful to our ears, two words that instill trust and eliminate fear — I know.” •Album: “A Very Relevant Christmas Vol. 4” Favorite Track: “Spark”

Sample lyric: “Been a long year, been a long year thinking the spark was gone.” • Album: “A Very Relevant Christmas Vol. 5” Favorite Track: “End of Exile” Sample lyric: “Glorious miracle, here is the end of exile. God the invisible flooding the world with light.” •Album: “Christmas” by Trisha Yearwood Favorite Track: “Take a Walk Through Bethlehem” Sample lyric: “‘Cause every heart longs for more than tinsel, something more than just a holiday. Come and celebrate the Baby King. Let’s take a walk.” •Album: “Joy — An Irish Christmas” by Keith and Kristyn Getty Favorite Track: “How Suddenly a Baby Cries” Sample lyric: “How suddenly a baby cried and all forever changed. Through history soul by soul have come to find His healing grace.” Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.