Prime Cuts: The Light, Work of Love, Oh to be Loved
It's been 10 years since Allan Hall last released an album. Back in 2004, Hall took some time off his normal role as part of the Christian trio Selah to embark on recording a solo project. "House of a Thousand Dreams" was a labor of love for Hall. It was a recess from the normal Christian pop-AC material Selah has been known for. Rather, for the record, Hall splurged on his indulgence for Christian-tilted country. As a result, "House of a Thousand Dreams" became the template of how country-Gospel records need to sound like. Featuring deftly chosen covers with well-crafted originals, even after a decade later, it still sounds fresh, engaging and simply so good. "Work of Love," the much anticipated follow-up, adopts the same blueprint. Though it doesn't have quite the lofty quality of its predecessor, it's still a sublime effort.
Nowadays, because of the nebulous nature of the word "country," to designate a record as country needs unpacking. Simply put, Hall's brand of country Gospel finds more affinity with the older school of Kathy Mattea and Don Williams than the blasting guitar rock of say Lucy Hale or Hunter Haynes. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out who Hall's muse is. Four out of the eleven songs here are associated somehow with Emmylou Harris. Fans of Harris will recognize that the album opener "The Light" was taken from their heroine's Asylum album "Cowgirl's Prayer." Co-written by Harris and Kieran Kane, "The Light" is essentially a love song with lots of spiritual echoes about finding our answer in Jesus. For his version, Hall has kept very much abreast with the original even keeping the soft pedaling acoustic drum beat.
"Hickory Wind," though a Gram Parsons' signature tune, has also been covered by Harris. With its lyrics that describe how fame and wealth can strip one of his Edenic simplicity, "Hickory Wind" certainly benefits from a Christian touch. "When You're Gone, Long Gone," a track that Harris recorded with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt on their second instalment of the Trio series, gets a sober reflection by Hall here. When Hall sings with a female backing vocalist on the Paul Kennerley/Emmylou Harris' "Diamond in My Crown," it's almost as if Hall was singing with his own idol herself.
As far as the originals, they are by no means inferior. Utilizing intricately crafted storylines and lots of three dimensional characters, love's transforming power is gorgeously compiled in the moving title cut "Work of Love." Though the melodic line of "Saving Jesus" suffers from too much detours and it never really takes off, the song tells of a realistic story of how a prodigal finds Jesus through a painful journey of suffering. Hall ventures into some old-fashioned bluegrass terrain with the traditional "Life's Railway to Heaven" and the worshipful "Oh to be Loved."
If you feel like getting away from the drudgery of the heavy bass and wailing electric guitar pop sounds that surround lots of Christian record these days and you want something rustic, sweet and yet meaningful, you can't really go wrong with "Work of Love.' Let's just hope we don't have to wait 10 more years for album number three.