Darryl Purpose,
The Gift of the Magi
& Other Seasonal Stories

(self-produced, 2002)

It should be a shame to review Darryl Purpose's The Gift of the Magi & Other Seasonal Stories just after that season has passed. Should be, but it isn't, because this is an album that surpasses its holiday intent. I can't think of a time of year when this well-balanced collection wouldn't be appropriate.

The Gift of the Magi starts out a bit unsteadily, with a stumbling cover of Enya's "May It Be." The tune is sweet, but I kept losing track of the lyrics, only coming back together with Darryl for the refrain. The second track, "American Noel," is a much better representative for the album. Starting with a guitar rendition of "Away in a Manger," it shifts tunes and gears to tell the story of a modern-day Jesus and the pilgrims -- wise men, cleaning women and a stray black dog -- who seek him out in a cold Christmas night. The narrative skill displayed here is typical of the album, from the quietly hopeful "You Must Be Home for Christmas" to the reborn innocence in "Holy Now."

Through no fault of its own, the title song left me cold. I've always felt "The Gift of the Magi" to be a depressing tale of loss and miscommunication, and even the poetry of this song couldn't bring it closer to my heart. Far more sweet and painful was "Christmas in the Trenches," a song about the World War I Christmas Eve truce that sprang up between men on both sides of the trenches. Somehow, this song manages to be true to both the facts and the feelings. Listening to the dawning of that fragile peace and the next morning's cold return to war left me sobbing like a new widow, and I'm not ashamed of it.

The album is given some needed levity by songs like the bright "Mary and Joe," telling the story of the famous couple as simply a pair of good old marrieds who happened to have a very famous son. Without descending to parody, some honestly funny lines come from "The Christians and the Pagans," as a family steps around their religious differences to celebrate the Solstice and Christmas holidays together. The song gives room for both faiths to shine, and the humor springs from the natural interaction of a family.

If anything ties this versatile album to a season, it's Purpose's playing. The sparse arrangements and careful guitarwork give the feeling of bare branches in winter sun. His skill is given a spotlight in "Steel String Surprise," a bright instrumental with the feel of cracking ice and warm spiced drinks. But the winter bareness of strings and arrangement doesn't change the constant enjoyability of the tunes. Even the songs directly linked to Christmas have a wide focus that lets them shine any time.

Though only three of the songs on The Gifts of the Magi are written by Purpose, they all become his through one performance. Nowhere is this clearer than in the final track, the well known "Turn, Turn, Turn." Here it sounds like a new song, never heard before, and never mind how often it plays on the local radio.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 11 January 2003

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