Following up a huge hit debut album is one of the trickiest propositions in all of popular music. Artists as diverse as Hootie & The Blowfish, Jars Of Clay, Alanis Morrisette, Matchbox Twenty and for KING & COUNTRY have all faced the monumental task of topping (or at least matching) the popularity and sales figures of their debut album. (CCM newcomer Zach Williams will soon face this challenge, too.) Much of the struggle to do this can be attributed to having only one album with which to compare the new songs to. Even Adele (the closest musical comparison to Lauren Daigle) hit fantastically big on her second album, and was given some time and breathing room to produce her third one.
So where does that leave Look Up Child, Lauren Daigle's much-anticipated follow up album? Debut How Can It Be was the bestselling album of the last few years in CCM, and dominated the radio waves and charts since its release in back in 2014-15 (between the ep, full-length and deluxe album versions).
Well, based on the large shadow cast by the debut, Look Up Child falls a bit short of the massive impact that album had. But listened to on its own merits, Daigle and company have crafted a vintage soul album that sounds fantastic and sports some of the best melodies and performances of any album out this year. Daigle could sing the bark off a tree, and that powerful voice is set against massive string sections and a sharp group of backing musicians.
"Still Rolling Stones" opens the album up in fine, swinging style, but treads a little too close to Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" for comfort. (Even the title is reminiscent of that other song.) Second track "Rescue" slows down the tempo, but builds into a soaring, old-school soul ballad with pleading, emotional vocals and a wonderful backing choir (one that appears a number of times before the album is through). The following "This Girl" continues in this slow-rise pattern, but likewise builds nicely to a barn-burner of a climax. Current single "You Say" continues the string of ballads with a melody that, alas, sounds a lot like Adele's iconic "Someone Like You" in both its melody and performance. Like the "Rolling" opener, both tracks are well-done, and feature great lyrics, but to have two familiar-sounding tunes is a little puzzling.
Thankfully, the ship is righted a bit, and tempos shift on the Reggae-lite "Under Your Wings," which sounds right out of the Bob Marley songbook. Daigle nails the vibe here, and the swinging Caribbean feel is just what is needed to break the mid-tempo spell. The use of the Psalmic metaphor for God's love (that the Lord cares for his children like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wing for safety) is well-used, and matches the feel of the song wonderfully. The title track is perhaps the best song here, and serves as a pulsating anthem of hope. Again referencing the Psalms, with the instructions to "look up" in times of trouble; the lyrics are poetically rendered in a way that gives hope without being cloying or speaking down to the listener.
That might be Daigle's greatest strength on Look Up Child, the relentless, encouraging, positive drive in the music and lyrics. The theme of hope can be handled in hackneyed fashion in much of Christian music, but Daigle takes her calling seriously, and handles the theme deftly. Ending with the old hymn, "Turn Your Eyes On Jesus," is a great way to bring the album's theme full circle. There may be a few too many slow-rise ballads here, but Look Up Child is a very good follow-up album, and in terms of sheer quality and sophistication, it's also one of the year's best and most mature work.- Review date: 9/5/18, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Centricity Music
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