Release Date: June 3rd 2014
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
- The Light
- Hickory Wind
- A Work Of Love
- Nearing Home
- Oh To Be Loved
- Life’s Railway To Heaven
- The Right Way
- Saving Jesus
- The Sweetest Gift
- Diamond In My Crown
- When We’re Gone, Long Gone
Having recorded many albums since 1999, vocal trio Selah have shown us many heartfelt melodies and soft piano pieces moving us into communion with Jesus; with songs like “I Look To You”, “You Raise Me Up”, “All My Praise”, “Bless The Broken Road”, “I Will Sing Of My Redeemer”, “Wonderful, Merciful Saviour”, and “Hope Of The Broken World” all captivating us, giving us reason to praise God and celebrate our freedom in Him. As I also champion the praises of the efforts of these three vocalists, let me say that Allan Hall, Todd Smith and Amy Perry each sing eloquently, powerfully and beautifully, praises to Jesus, as well as bringing to the fore words of encouragement and impact.
Signed to Curb Records alongside fellow Selah vocalist and solo singer Amy Perry, Allan Hall, from Dove Award winning CCM vocal trio Selah, recorded his first solo country album called House of a Thousand Dreams in 2004, to fan and critical respect and popularity. Now, 10 years later, the new solo album Work Of Love releases (on the same day as Amy’s Glory All Around!), again with a country flavour and slant, with Allan wowing us once again. With many tracks driven by the piano, and with Allan’s eloquent and stellar voice (reminiscent of Jody McBrayer) drawing in even the most uninterested of listeners; this album is for fans of country, fans of Selah, or for listeners who will just want to sing to God in a quiet reflective setting. A joy to listen to, Allan should definitely be congratulated. Bring on album #3, hopefully it’s not 10 more years!
Opening the track list is the calm and serene acoustic guitar led “The Light”, a cover of Emmylou Harris’s famous country hit. As Allan powerfully and earnestly cries out to God, and sings about walking towards the light at the end of the tunnel, which is Jesus, against guitar riffs, hand claps and captivating backing vocals, this song, albeit short and without drums, is still nevertheless inspiring and moving, as I am swept away in wonder and praise to my Lord Jesus. Allan’s vocals are sublime here, and this song sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Four other covers of Allan’s are also originally from Emmylou, or at least covered by her. The slow paced ballad “Hickory Wind”, though not a Christian song, still speaks of the significance of coming home, with Allan passionately and fervently crying out amongst the acoustic guitar that there’s no place like home, alluding to the physical home one spends their childhood in, or the spiritual home that we have found in Jesus. The song, mysterious and haunting in its instrumentation, also make subtle references to The Parable of the Lost Son, and that is something that brings a smile to my face. Sonya Isaacs’ pristine vocals being featured is a plus also.
The calm and reflective “Diamond In My Crown”, again driven by light keys and acoustic guitar, is about longing for heaven, and celebrating that Jesus has a place for us there, and that is what the title refers to metaphorically- the assured place in heaven that we will be in after this life. Allan shines vocally in this track, probably this track is when he is most emotional- and once again in the album closer “When We’re Gone, Long Gone”, also recorded by Emmylou, we are blessed to hear that success is not important in this life, and that love and relationships is most important. Musically, this song is not as upbeat as some others, yet through the absence of many instruments, the poignant and potent lyrics are accentuated, which gives us plenty to ponder and think about. The final cover originally recorded by Emmylou (and also covered by The Judds) is the soft and serene “The Sweetest Gift”, a story song that shows us the depth of a mother’s love, despite what her child has done, which is only a fraction of the endless and boundless love Jesus Christ has for each one of us.
Allan also sings a couple of hymns on this record. The worshipful “Oh To Be Loved”, led by light acoustic guitar and keys, is a hymn like melody written by Thad Cockrell outlines that it is the pinnacle of this life to know that we are loved by Jesus; and the country and bluegrass infused and guitar led upbeat hymn “Life’s Railway To Heaven” (with harmonica, banjo and an acapella chorus included as well to give that Nashville country sound!) vividly describes through metaphors and imagery about the pleasures of heaven, and that it is more than enough that we are meeting Jesus at the end of this life. Both tracks are sublime and both top off an amazing set of covers from an accomplished musician and storyteller. Well done Allan for inspiring us to live for Jesus through your covers!
Just as Allan has excelled in the seven covers, making them his own; so has he shown us stellar original songs as well. The title track has Allan singing on one of the most musically courageous songs on the album (though it still is pretty acoustic though!) about the acts of love shown in the Bible, then attributing them to the unending love of Jesus that never fails, that never dies. As we sing out ‘…it’s the bending of the knee, it’s the tending of the knee, it’s the hand that’s reaching from above, if you look and see the scar, then you know you’ve seen the heart, hallelujah that’s a work of love…’ I am introduced to the old style Scripture in song style melodies, that don’t have much musical variety yet are grounded in Scripture. While Allan’s original songs are like this, the enjoyability is still there as I am presented with one of the most lyrically and biblically sound albums of the year on a whole.
From the acoustic guitar driven country tune “Nearing Home”, presumably inspired by the life of Billy Graham, as Allan outlines the legacy that he lived as he glorified Christ though his speeches and crusades, while he earnestly and patiently waits for the day when he can meet his family again in heaven, as ‘…he’s nearing home, nearing home, nearing home…’ to the autobiographical testimony like acoustic guitar driven track “The Right Way”, where Allan ardently proclaims with conviction that ‘…I’ll take the long way always, if it’s the right way home…’, a reference to Pilgrims Progress and the wide/narrow road options; it is “Saving Jesus” that hits me the most lyrically.
With violins and other string instruments featuring in the forefront, Allan depict several stories in the verses where the protagonist is in a tight spot, then in the chorus, he makes a social comment, and speaks directly about people who use Jesus and prayer as their last resort, not their first resource. Asking the questions ‘…how long will thing keep going on, til you break and just can’t take it anymore, how long do you have to go before your knees finally hit that floor, what do you think you are saving Jesus for?…’, this song is the one that makes me think the most above all, and is the track that is sure to garner the most praise yet also probably the most criticism. Overall, a real and authentic album, Allan Hall’s sophomore record is one to savour if you want something different in your music; if you want to hear how he sounds apart from Selah.
With each track musically similar, it is the lyrics that make Work Of Love special; and the heart for Jesus that Allan brings, along with some exquisite piano playing, acoustic guitar and string arrangements. While it would have been nice to have some drums or electric guitar in a few tracks, what we have here is honest and true to his own genres, shown throughout every song. There are seven covers here, but don’t let that turn you off the album. Work Of Love is sure to strike a chord with someone, and though I felt that the album could have done with more guitar, drums, and a pop sound (as that is a genre I prefer more), I feel as if maybe that message wouldn’t be that clear if instruments cluttered it. Nevertheless, kudos to Allan for giving us reason to sing along with him about Jesus, and something to listen to, along with Amy Perry’s Glory All Around, to tie us over until Selah’s You Amaze Us on August 19th!
3 songs to listen to: A Work Of Love, Life’s Railway To Heaven, Saving Jesus
RIYL: Amy Perry, Selah, Avalon, Michael W Smith, Natalie Grant