Prime Cuts: O Holy Night, Winter Wonderland, Away in a Manger
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
Riding high on the charts right now is Lauren Daigle's smash hit record Look Up Child. Capitalising on such a success, Daigle has decided to put out a deluxe version of her 2016 Christmas album Behold. This new package contains 13 tracks, boasting an inclusion of 3 additional tracks not found on its original pressing. They are "Away in a Manger," "Winter Wonderland" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel." On first glance, these new tracks plus the track list of the entire package herald a tinge of disappointment. Save for one original cut "Light of the World," all of the 12 tracks here are Christmas standards have been recycled ubiquitously by almost everyone who has had released a Christmas record. However, do not let the track listing mislead you. Once when the first track starts, you know you are in for a treat.
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. So, let's get to the new songs first: "Winter Wonderland" gets a 40s jazz parlour feel executed on a languid pace with shimmering organ flourishes and subdued trumpets. "Away in a Manger" is almost treated like a lullaby where Dangle adds her bluesy vocals to a piano-led setting. "O Come O Come Emmanuel," the final new track, is less successful. Almost imbued with a dirge-like ambiance, the song seem to spell more gloom than hope so unbefitting of the lyrics.
The rest of the record, though formerly released, is quite fetching. 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.