One of the great dangers that comes with sudden success for an artist is the easy temptation to spend the next several years attempting to recapture the formula that worked so well the first time, rather than continuing to push their evolving artistic vision forward with creativity and authenticity.
Centricity Music artist Lauren Daigle faced that tension sooner than expected. Her debut powerhouse pop album, How Can It Be, was certified gold in 18 months, making Lauren the fastest-selling new artist in Christian music since Casting Crowns. The project garnered two #1 singles, 3 Dove Awards, 3 K-LOVE Fan Awards, a Billboard Music Award and a Grammy nomination. In a short year-and-a-half she went from being relatively unknown, to joining six major tours, to now headlining her own shows. By industry standards, Lauren Daigle’s success wasn’t just overnight, it pretty much happened before the sun even went down.
So how does this smoky-voiced, former American Idol contestant from southern Louisiana follow up the utterly unanticipated success of her pop debut? Easy. Lauren Daigle draws on her New Orleans musical roots to fashion a Christmas record gutsy enough to hold its own alongside the vintage, jazzy recordings of legendary crooners like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. In a phrase, Lauren Daigle went home for the holidays, and for her, home meant the cool, vibey strains of The Big Easy.
“Behold is a project I’ve had growing inside me for years,” Lauren explains. “I moved to Nashville knowing I wanted to make a record that came from my South Louisiana roots, to capture those ragtime, jazz sounds that resonate through the alleys of the French Quarter. It’s such a nostalgic sound that hasn’t really changed since the 1920’s. I wasn’t sure how I could capture that vibe as an artist in the Christian pop world, and I worried that I might never have the opportunity. So when my label approached me about recording a Christmas project, I took the chance and told them it had to be jazz in its rare, raw form. No gimmicks. I wanted to record something pure.”
Daigle and her veteran production team—Jason Ingram & Paul Mabury—mapped out their approach, actually studying old recordings to learn prior techniques, and selecting vintage mics and equipment from the Sinatra era to capture the old school warmth of classic jazz vocal recordings. They assembled a team of session musicians experienced and versatile enough to play the tracks down live together while Lauren sang. It would be all about chemistry. All of them knew they were sailing into uncharted waters. Especially Lauren. She walked into the studio to record the project’s first song, “Silent Night”, knowing that the success or failure of this venture would have a lot to do with her own ability to step up and deliver something unexpected. She was taking nothing for granted.
“I had never sung jazz before,” Lauren says. “At least, not in front of other people. I didn’t know if I could pull it off, trying to make it happen in the studio for the first time, with producers and musicians all around me, waiting to see what I would do. I knew I was so completely vulnerable in that moment, and I was wondering ‘Am I any good at this, or will it all just fall apart?’ I stepped into the booth, tried to shut all those thoughts out, and sang “Silent Night”. As soon as I finished, both my producers ran and pulled me out of the vocal booth and they were so excited and asking me ‘Why did you wait till now to sing like this?’”
Lauren’s own risk-taking and vulnerability as an artist set the tone for all of the musicians involved. Rather than asking them to play pre-written parts already mapped out, she invited them instead to become a more integral part of the process, creating in the moment, stretching their own limits, responding musically in real time to Lauren and to one another.
“I knew if we could provide the right environment to capture that sentiment, the musicians would just be able to come alive in the studio,” Lauren explains. “I wanted them to breathe every note so that in their playing they would be telling the story of why they love music. And it was wonderful to see how they responded to that. The sounds and melodies they provided are so full and unforced, and so true to that timeless sound.”
Behold plays like an audio time capsule built of saxes, trombones and other horns (even tubas!), upright bass, brushes on drums, mellow sounding hollow body guitars, and vocals that are rich and distinctive but still somehow laid-back in their feel. Whereas Lauren Daigle’s debut album was energy-laced, radio-ready pop, her Christmas project seems in some ways to be a confident reimagining of her own versatile vocal gifts, showcased in a more mature and subdued, but also more eloquent, context.
“When people listen to Behold,” Lauren says, “I want them to experience a sense of rest. How Can It Be was sonically epic, with a lot going on in the tracks that demanded a listener’s full attention. By contrast the Christmas project is easy to listen to, and that was intentional. The holiday season can be chaotic. We wanted to make a record that would invite people stop and breathe again, to relax in the midst of the bustle. I hope this becomes a soundtrack for people stuck in traffic, or having friends over for dinner, or reading Christmas stories to their kids—just something that invites listeners, wherever they are, to step into a moment of peaceful reflection.”
Behold includes nine yuletide standards and one original—a tender, jazz reinterpretation of Lauren’s first radio single “Light of the World”. Worshipful favorites like “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “What Child Is This” (here given a unique, uptempo feel with a fun tip-of-the-hat to “Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music) take their places alongside festive holiday fare like “Jingle Bells” and “Merry Little Christmas”.
“The producers and musicians did such an incredible job of giving ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ a still, quiet feel,” Lauren says. “When it plays it brings everyone’s ear a little closer. It’s so warm and inviting and textured, it actually gives me butterflies when I hear it. It’s like I can feel family in the middle of it, like it transports me back to those Christmases growing up and just taps into that yearning to be with the people I love.”
While fans of Lauren’s radio hits might do an initial doubletake after they hit “play” on this Christmas collection, she welcomes the opportunity to invite her listeners into the experience and appreciation of a style that, while new for some of them, is still an authentic and honest expression of Lauren’s own deepest musical influences.
“This project allowed me to return to my roots, to a sound I thought I’d lost,” Lauren says. “Sometimes as an artist you make a choice to go down one road—and it can be a good road—but you fear that choice might mean you’ll never make it back to some of those other roads you also wanted to travel. I’m so grateful as a relatively new artist to already have the kind of opportunities I have, to be able write and record the sort of pop songs I love, but to also be able to explore my musical roots on a project like Behold. More than anything, I hope as people listen to this record they are drawn anew to the awe and wonder of Christ in this season. I hope the peace and presence of Jesus are manifest through these songs and in the hearts of all who come and behold.”