Prime Cuts: Jingle Bells, O Holy Night, Christmas Time is Here
One casual glance at Lauren Daigle's debut holiday album "Behold" heralds a tinge of disappointment. Save for one original cut "Light of the World" (which was already released last year), all of the 9 tracks here are Christmas standards have been recycled ubiquitously by almost everyone who has had released a Christmas record. Do we really need another version of "White Christmas" or "Jingle Bells" or "Little Drummer Boy"? However, do not let the track listing mislead you. Once when the first track starts, you know you are in for a treat. Rather than donning these standards with her regular CCM persona, Daigle steps out of character by wrapping these paeans with a sophisticated and smoky Diana Krall-jazzy endorsement.
Daigle is the poster child of CCM's success story. She received her first GRAMMY® nomination earlier this year for "Best Contemporary Christian Music Album" at the 58th GRAMMY® Awards; and took home the 2016 Billboard Music Award for "Top Christian Album." She has won three Dove Awards (nominated for four) --"New Artist of the Year," "Song of the Year" ("How Can It Be") and "Pop Contemporary Album of the Year," and was awarded this year's K-LOVE Fan Awards for "Artist of the Year" and "Female Artist of the Year"; in addition to the 2015 K-LOVE Fan Award for "Worship Song of the Year" ("How Can It Be").
The pride of "Behold" is Daigle's stellar interpretations of these standards. She's too subtle to wear her heart on her sleaves. And she's too passionate to be emotionally detached. Rather, quipped with child-like nuance, she brings a warm yet unforced trust to "What Child is This" that is never overpowering yet so affecting. New Orleans-styled brassy horns accompany Daigle as she brings a little French quarters to "Jingle Bells." Then she takes her time to stroll through "Christmas Time is Here" with the relaxing company of some sparse piano tingles.
While we expect Daigle to do a marching version of "Little Drummer Boy," she completely astounds us with a coffeehouse acoustic guitar-led rendition that completely destroys our ingrained caricature of the song. "O Holy Night" starts off with just Daigle's voice before the augmentation of trumpets, piano and horns. By the time she reaches the song' crescendo, she is at her sky scraping best. The only dud here is ironically her only original "Light of the World." It is the encapsulation of everything wrong in CCM today: trite lyrics, tuneless melody, and that artificial preppy production. The song is frankly the ugly duckling of the bunch and shouldn't have been included here.
Thus, don't let the song titles here mislead you. This is a stellar jazzy record perfectly suited to accompany egg nog cocktails and romantic afterglow holiday affairs. And it also finds Daigle as a sublime interpreter of great songs.