Few artists combine musical depth and the uplifting realities of a life in Christ as well as Dara Maclean. Hers is a joyful mix of pop idioms and eternal truths, danceable beats and the good news.
"I love making music you can move and groove to," she says, "but at the same time, as Christian artists we have a responsibility to speak the truth of the finished work of Christ in love."
A singer of incredible grace, power and control as well as a gifted songwriter, Dara has put together with Dove Award-winning producer Ian Eskelin a debut CD, You Got My Attention, as fresh and vibrant as any in recent years. Just 25, she has forged a sound rooted in the ’70s Motown, funk and soul her parents loved and filtered through a thoroughly contemporary urban pop lens.
Its first single, “Suitcases,” is a beat-driven track with an alternately intimate and soaring vocal celebrating true release from "your burdens, heavy like gravity."
"I want to paint a picture of God's complete restorative love and how through Christ we can experience true freedom," she says. "My parents and I minister together as a family and during one service my dad said, ‘You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases.’ I’ll never forget it. This song is my encouragement to us all to let go of the baggage of the past.”
“Suitcases” provides a first glimpse into an album that displays a range of influences and a lyrical and melodic flair rare in a young artist. You Got My Attention ranges from the soft intimacy of “Had To Be You” to the soaring finale of “Unreachable,” from the classic ‘70s feel of “So Good To Me” to the symphonic resonance of the album’s closer, “Home.”
“There are tracks like ‘You Got My Attention’ and ‘Nothin’ You Won’t Do’ that express my love of Motown and funk,” says Dara, and there is “What Love Looks Like,” a warm and lovely excursion into the heart of love, with acoustic instrumentation and scintillating harmonies. Harmonies soar again in “Free,” which celebrates the strength and liberation possible in God’s love, while “Yours Forever” showcases the sheer vocal expressiveness Dara possesses.
She has found the perfect studio partner in producer Eskelin.
“Ian knows the filter everything needs to go through,” she says. “It has to be soulful and reflect my love for R&B but still be contemporary. It’s about taking the listener on an interesting journey without wandering too far off the road.”
Within those parameters, Dara has found just the right setting for her vision.
“My message, my purpose,” she says, “is to express the heart of God for His kids. Then, I want the record to reflect what I want the live show experience to be like. We’ll dance, we’ll groove, we’ll have fun.
Though her message is undiluted, her touch is light and the music celebratory—and universal.
“I wanted the accessibility that great Motown music had,” she says. “That and the great 70s soul and R&B music transcended barriers. It was never about one group or one audience. It just spoke to people.”
The lessons of a lifetime spent combining music and ministry has enabled Dara to do craft a highly individual style as compellingly as anyone on the present scene.
Dara grew up outside Fort Worth, Texas, in a family that encouraged her love for music and for the Lord from her earliest days. She was just 13 when she began leading worship and singing in church. She credits The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill with "helping me discover who I wanted to be as an artist. I remember talking to my mom and dad about how she was quoting scripture in her lyrics in such a unique way. I just loved it. Not long after that, I started playing guitar and diving into writing for myself."
Influenced as well by contemporaries like Adele, Natasha Bedingfield, Ray LaMontagne, John Legend and Marc Broussard, she has honed a sound that captures the joy and exuberance of being swept up in God's love. It is an approach she comes by honestly.
"I grew up singing, dancing and acting, and it's been in the church world," she says. "Music has always equaled ministry to me. Ministering to the broken, unloved and discouraged and ultimately showing people God's better way is what's in my heart. It's how I'm wired.”
While her technical skill shines through, it is her individuality that shines through.
“I did take voice lessons,” she says, “but I did not go to school for music. Part of the story is not being polished and perfectly educated. My records represent my personal journey through music.”
In school, Dara was part of a singing group that traveled widely, performing everywhere from churches to conferences to the Superdome. When she graduated at 18, she “dove into music and ministry. It’s what I felt like I was supposed to do.” Discovered by label/publishing executive Susan Riley, she earned a publishing deal before landing her recording contract. Throughout, she has never compromised the message she expresses in music.
“As an artist and a Christian my responsibility is not to give half the pie. When we represent something, it’s the whole, complete message of redemption.”
The sheer exuberance of her music assures her effectiveness in carrying that message.
“I’m hearing from people that it’s a brand new sound, that it’s refreshing,” she says. “It makes me feel in my heart like I’m hitting the mark. I feel like we have the right people involved, like it’s the right mix and that we’re headed in the right direction.”