Lauren Daigle sounds like an old soul while singing the classic hymn “Turn Your Eyes” on the album Look Up Child. Daigle’s vocal is at its Billie Holiday-ist, which is saying something because much of the singer’s prior recordings point unmistakably back to that famously tragic jazz singer. It’s sung more as a lament, though, than an altar call. She’s accompanied by an offertory-worthy piano accompaniment, while she repeats the plea, “Oh, turn your eyes upon Jesus.”
For those already thrown off by Daigle’s much-subdued take on familiar Christmas songs with Behold, Look Up Child will sound like a partial continuation of this uniquely unusual sonic approach. In much the same way Adele has transformed usually lighter pop songs into much more serious romantic meditations, Daigle re-imagines praise and worship music as something far more more substantial than mere U2/Coldplay anthemic rip-offs. One called “Rebel Heart,” for example, finds the chanteuse inwardly focusing, over a piano and orchestrated arrangement. Maybe she’s committing small measures of commercial suicide with this type of song (and album), but it’s difficult to imagine this one sung sung in church and bathed in colored laser lights. Daigle, lyrically, is more Carole King introspective, than Chris Tomlin fist pumps. She’s recorded this one with an intimacy with God, similar to the way jazz singers described their funny valentines in songs past.
The album’s title track ditches piano-backed introspection, for a more rhythmic reassurance. It’s a slightly Caribbean groove, underpinning a Black gospel-leaning lyric. Elsewhere, “You Say” is effectively esteem building, even though it borrows a little too liberally from Hillsong’s “This Is Our God.” It’s also one place where Daigle shows off her powerful, blues-inspired vocal style. (She holds back much of the time). The chorus also includes gospel choir backing vocals. One titled “Losing My Religion” is not, as you might have guessed, an R.E.M. cover — even though such a move would have been fascinating. Rather, it’s a slightly melancholy – but not R.E.M. level melancholy – meditation upon the significant difference between being a lifeless religious person, and one fully alive with a personal relationship with Christ. Once again, though, it’s the sound of Daigle taking on the role of introspective seeker, not church cheerleader.
Speaking of Adele, “Still Rolling Stones” is the most Adele-sounding album track. She’s rolling in deep imitation with a thumping groove, a soulful vocal and a return of that gospel backing choir. Even so, though, Daigle manages to make even this worship music more personal, sidestepping comfortable corporate musings.
The church ought never to expect secular society to respect and appreciate modern worship music. There is a veil over the unbeliever’s eyes, the scriptures tell us, which leaves the genre as one only Christ followers can fully appreciate. With that said, though, the quiet meditativeness Lauren Daigle applies to these 13 songs is infused with enough unquestionable music quality for even a diehard skeptic to appreciate. “Under My Wings,” with its joyful reggae beat, ought to make everybody sway to it happily, like any other sweet summer tune. Look Up Child doesn’t fit the mold of worship music — or even typical contemporary Christian music, for that matter. It’s a heartfelt, personal collection of songs from a singer deliberately evolving into her own artistic voice. It’s also an album listeners will need a little alone time to fully appreciate. Take the time, though, and you won’t be sorry.