The holiday season is a time of giving, and Sarah Darling is doing just that with the release of a Christmas album and a charity show she'll be hosting near Nashville.
Have a Merry Little Christmas Darling, an independently-released project, features her interpretations of perennial favorites "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)," "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Silent Night," along with Joni Mitchell's emotional ballad, "River." She'll be joined by several of her singer-songwriter friends for the Sarah Darling and Friends Acoustic Christmas concert set for Friday (Dec. 13) at the Franklin Theatre in Franklin, Tenn.
During a recent interview with CMT.com, Darling talked about her love of the season, her favorite holiday memories and what's in store for 2014.
"Christmas is my favorite time of year," she says. "I think it's one of those times where you're kind of whisked away to when you were younger and immediately listening to Christmas music is just so special to you."
For her EP, the Iowa native says, "I picked the songs that were special to me."
Darling chose to kick off the project with "The Christmas Song."
"That's always been one of my favorites," she said. "Nat King Cole's version will always forever be the best version. And I decided to keep it really classic and traditional."
Describing Mitchell's "River" as "one of the most gorgeous songs ever," Darling has known for years she wanted to cover it.
"When I was younger, I used to hear it and think, 'Gosh, if I ever got a chance, I'd love to cut that song,'" she said.
Recording the track was a new venture because it's never been covered by a country artist before.
"I think it's my standout track," she says.
Darling teamed up with producer Steve Gibson for her EP and already plans to work with him in the future. Having previously produced albums for the likes of Randy Travis, Gibson now serves as music director for the Grand Ole Opry. The venue is also a regular stomping ground for Darling who just made her 50th appearance there.
In fact, a serendipitous encounter at the venue led to the two working together.
"He used to produce way back when, and he actually approached me after an Opry show and said, 'You know what? I haven't produced anyone in ages, and there's something about you that makes me want to produce again,'" she recalls.
Darling says the timing was excellent.
"It's a little eerie, in a way, because I was looking to find a new producer, and it was so subtle," she says. "He just walked into my life, and it was like the perfect fit. I always love when life works out that way. That's how you know it's meant to be."
For her acoustic concert, she'll be joined by Jen Bostic, Matthew Perryman Jones, Jessica Campbell and others.
"It'll be a wonderful night of music," she says. "It's going to be myself and some friends just playing at one of the prettiest venues in Nashville."
Darling's not done spreading holiday cheer yet. A portion of her physical CD sales goes to benefit Live Beyond. The charity was founded by the Vanderpool family of Brentwood, Tenn.
"They have this organization where they basically sold everything they own, and they have a place in Haiti where they really go into the trenches and help people that are sick," she says. "Educate them, help get water, pretty much anything that you could think of in the poorest place in the world. ... When I actually saw what they did, it was so moving that I really want to contribute to it."
Darling is gearing up for 2014 with hopes of releasing a new album. After parting ways with Black River Entertainment earlier this year, she's currently searching for a new label home.
"I'm looking for a partner," she says. "Someone who really gets me musically, that wants to join in on all the visions that I have and we just help each other get to that common goal."
Earlier this year, Darling found herself among the ranks of Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe and Brandy Clark when she was named one of CMT's Next Women of Country. The initiative showcases emerging signed and unsigned ladies in country music. Darling says being a part of the group "means absolutely the world to me."
She adds, "I love the fact that it's label or without a label, radio or without radio. It's just people that you know are making a difference. And I love being in that category of women. I think it's a strong group of women, and everyone's so different and brings something incredibly different to the table. I want to go out there and continue making everyone proud."