Originally published on So So Gay on 15 December 2013.
The Christmas music market is arguably the toughest one of the year, all the more so when releasing your own seasonal collection. Alongside big names like Kelly Clarkson, Mary J Blige and Leona Lewis, is country-pop star Sarah Darling with her own bundle of Christmas joy, Have A Merry Little Christmas Darling.
Rather than opt for the more dicey route of trying to create original material to compete with the plethora of long-standing classics, Darling has shrewdly decided on delivering her versions of some well-known standards. Just to mix things up a little, however, she also includes a cover of the Joni Mitchell song, ‘River’. This inclusion shows a little daring on her part considering how well known the track is, lifted as it is from Mitchell’s Blue album, although Darling really does the song justice with a beautiful rendition.
For a country artist, this all-too-brief collection of Christmas songs is surprisingly devoid of any foibles from her genre – there’s not a banjo, harmonica or fiddle to be heard throughout. In fact, the production on the EP is thoroughly laid back, making it the perfect accompaniment to an evening in front of the fire with some mulled wine. The subdued instrumentation, mainly consisting of piano and soft percussion, is the perfect backdrop for allowing Darling’s voice to take centre stage.
Darling’s angelic and crystal clear voice combined with the flawless production really makes the record incredibly hard to resist. While it isn’t breaking any new ground musically speaking (though nor is it pretending to), sometimes a lack of contemporary bells-and-whistles is a blessed relief – the EP even manages to avoid needing to rely on the much-loved sleigh bells for that instant dusting of Christmas.
Darling’s voice is definitely the key selling point of this EP, though it would have been nice to hear a little harmonising from some backing vocals in places, even if they were her own vocals layered on top of each other.
While in previous releases Darling has straddled the pop-country genre – perhaps veering more toward pop – this EP suggests that maybe she would be better suited to the easy listening genre, treading a similar path to fellow American, Stacey Kent.
The only real negative to this clutch of songs is that it’s far too short. As such, selecting standouts is made redundant – each of the four tracks is as delightful as the last. Hopefully next time Darling contemplates doing a holiday record she’ll brave a full-length album as, if this EP is any indication, she has the potential for creating a classic festive album of her very own.