Mark Erelli Balances Heavy Themes and Soulful Sounds on ‘Lay Your Darkness Down’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Photo credit: Joe Novas

Boston-based singer/songwriter Mark Erelli was playing a show a couple of years ago when he looked down at his guitar and realized he was having trouble seeing the frets and his fingers working through the chords. A doctor’s visit led to the diagnosis of a degenerative eye disease that will likely lead to blindness. That in mind, many of the themes weaved throughout his latest LP, Lay Your Darkness Down, take on new meaning.

Even some of the songs written before the diagnosis coincidentally could be seen as alluding to his likely fate. Songs like the title track, “Up Against The Night,” “Sense Of Wonder” and “Break In The Clouds,” could be about facing his inevitable loss or a generalized sense of appreciating what you have and had, which is part of the charm of Erelli’s lyrics: they are descriptive enough to be relatable and vague enough to be about a slew of different things to different people.  

Much like his earlier efforts, the music on Lay Your Darkness Down vacillates between up tempo tracks like “Sense of Wonder and slower fare like the album opener “Break In the Clouds” or the moodier “You” and “Fuel For The Fire.” The greatest moment though comes halfway into the record with the Otis Redding-esque “The Man I Am,” a soft, subtle Soul-infused number that could possibly be the best love song of 2023. It’s also one of the best showcases of Erelli’s impressive range as a singer.   

He admitted recently that the song was a stretch out of his comfort zone as a writer. “It is hard for me to imagine what my life would look like if not for the love of my wife, who I’ve been married to for 20 years,” he said. “… I’m stubborn and fiercely independent, but above all, she has shown me how letting someone else into your heart can truly transform your life. In that spirit of transformation, I tried to push into some new sonic territory on this track, framing my voice against a spare drum machine for the first verse.” 

With allusions to light, darkness and shadows throughout, You can’t help but find clues (even if they’re unintentional) to Erelli’s fading sight throughout Lay Your Darkness Down. But even given that heavy topic, themes of forging ahead and love ultimately play a larger role throughout the record, allowing optimism to dominate all other themes here. It’s fitting then that album ends on “Love Wins In The Long Run”.     

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