"Though life has hardships, heartbreaks and dark times, life is a great gift, and these songs tell life's stories."
Best known as the tenor on the ivory keys from the critically-acclaimed, Dove Award-winning Curb vocal group Selah, Allan Hall has quietly etched his way into hearts of Christian music lovers over the past five years. Now, with the release of his solo debut, House of a Thousand Dreams, which he produced along with Jason Kyle, the Dove Award-winning production talent behind Selah's recordings, Allan offers his own very personal, genre-defying mix of songs about life.
The stories articulated in these 10 selections are the focus, so Allan keeps the instrumentation to a minimum, showcasing acoustic guitars, lilting strings, light percussion and gentle piano. In the style of new grass-popsters Nickel Creek, country songwriter/storyteller Dolly Parton, and folk troubadour Nanci Griffith, House of a Thousand Dreams is reminiscent of the music Hall grew up listening to during his youth in Knoxville, Tennessee, and a nod to Mark Twain's advice that "he who says it simply says it best."
Allan's parents recognized a love of music and a keen ear in their son early on. As a child, his musical diet was comprised of everything from bluegrass and gospel-artists like Bill Monroe and the Osborne Brothers-to rock, R&B and country, ala Elvis and Patsy Cline, and even The Supremes. When he turned 7, Allan's parents surprised him with an old upright piano, and he spent a great deal of time fine-tuning his piano playing by ear, with an occasional formal lesson. He learned the songs off his parents' records, as well as hymns he heard in his family's home church.
When Allan moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University, he continued to hone his talent serving as an accompanist for aspiring artists at the school. Getting his first taste of life in the spotlight, Allan spent a summer playing for a country music revue at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, and he and producer Jason Kyle were also members of the country band Caney Ridge. Before disbanding in 1998, Caney Ridge performed regularly and had opened shows for Clay Walker and Sammy Kershaw.
In addition, Allan was part of a country/bluegrass trio with college friends Jennifer McClain and Jenna Cowart in the mid '90s. Allan promised the two friends he would invite them to sing with him if he ever had the chance to record his own project, and true to his word, the group indeed reunited to provide vocals on the rollicking bluegrass/gospel number, "Paul and Peter Walked" on House of a Thousand Dreams.
House of a Thousand Dreams' opening cut, "Gulf Coast Highway," co-written by Nanci Griffith, is a crystal reflection of Allan's heart for lyric, melody and message. He chose the song as an opener because it was one he'd always loved, created by a songwriter he'd always admired, and penned in a way that could be universally understood. The tune is a simple love story tinged with the light and dark that make-up real life.
Another selection, "Between the Two of Them," is a longtime favorite of Allan's. Penned by Mickey Cates, "Between the Two of Them" chronicles a marriage over the course of a lifetime. It's a story of commitment that Allan says is dear to him because it brings to mind his grandparents' life together. When he heard the tune covered by singer/songwriter Claire Lynch on her Friends for a Lifetime album several years ago, "It brought me to tears," recalls Allan. "I knew immediately that I wanted to cut that song someday." Allan was honored to have Claire join him to provide vocals on "Paul and Peter Walked," as well as on "Scorns of Time," a song she also co-wrote.
Amidst the story songs are others that may ring familiar to listeners-the ethereal, hymn-like chant song "Down In The River To Pray," as well as "Nearer My God To Thee," Allan's rendering of the classic hymn, a favorite from the songbooks he grew up paging through in his home church.
While House of a Thousand Dreams showcases Allan's talents as a vocalist and musician, the record also illuminates the quieter strengths of the artist. Considering the intricate landscape of these songs, Allan emerges a song finder and interpreter, a role he is honored to play. "The majority of the songs on the album are what I would call 'obscure gems,' songs I've stockpiled over years of listening."
Indeed, the album is a collection that adeptly reflects Allan's love of American roots music, music that paints evocative portraits of love, loss, perseverance and faith from days gone by-from a simpler time.
"What has drawn me to these songs is the simplicity," Allan concludes. "Though they may appear straightforward on the surface, the songs on House of a Thousand Dreams dive into life's complexities; they present deep messages in what I believe is a very accessible manner. Though life has hardships, heartbreaks and dark times, life is a great gift, and these songs tell life's stories."