The first two seconds of The Darkness Comes, the second album by the once-gentle singer-songwriter Christy Smith, aren't exactly a feint, but they're at least a wink. Smith strums her acoustic guitar, momentarily suggesting that these 10 songs will evenly chase those of her wonderful and soft debut, 2010's Flotsam & Krill.
But then a sharp electric guitar cuts in, wrapping barbs around her lament. That's the expert balance of Darkness, where Smith's romantic and worldly frustrations finally become more than idle tears. She interweaves rage and beauty, pain and power. "Pearls," for instance, finds Smith digging into the snarling guitar tones and bitter imagery of Neil Young's On the Beach. During "Tried My Best," she sticks with a gentle strum and steady singing but transfers the invective to the words. "I bled for you, bright red for you/See the trail I left," she offers, the disgust surrounded by the pillow of her country voice. It's these juxtapositions Smith spent four years perfecting and that make The Darkness Comes one of the year's very best.