Charlie Hall is about to enter his 20th year in the music business. The Putnam City North and University of Central Oklahoma graduate has been involved with some of the best-selling Christian worship albums of all time.
Along the way, he helped launch the contemporary praise act Passion and has maintained a solo career in a genre that's somewhere between mainstream rock and praise pop.
Last Tuesday, Hall released his fifth solo project, "The Rising." True to form, it's a mixture of rock anthems, contemplative worship, contemporary psalms and singer/songwriter pop. Hall is first and foremost a songwriter, so his tunes don't resemble the formulaic, clichéd music that often dominates Christian-pop radio.
"My writing reflects the life that I'm living," Hall said. "I'm going to take that life " my wife, my kids, my faith " and I'm going to put it into a spiritual journaling song and then give it as an offering."
Because the lyrics are deeply personal, his songs aren't the type that lend themselves easily to corporate worship services.
"Much of what I do isn't the kind of music where you can sing it once or twice and have it down," he said. "It takes a while to get it, and I really want people to think about the words, to hear them."
Despite his resistance to writing formulaic music, his worship ballads and musical prayers have struck a chord almost everywhere. With the help of Passion Conferences, Hall's music has traveled the world.
Currently, two of his songs, "Give Us Clean Hands" and "Marvelous Light," are on the Christian Copyright Licensing International's Top 100 songs of the year. The list tracks the frequency with which songs are reported as used in churches that pay licensing fees.
The writing philosophy that undergirds Hall's approach started in high school.
"I got into a drunk driving accident when I was at North," he said. "It was the point that turned my life around. Nathan Nockels and James Marsden reached out to me. Nathan's dad was a pastor, and so I was invited to church."
Hall said he had been in rock bands throughout high school, and so with his conversion to Christianity came a new lyrical lexicon, but no change in the kind of music he wanted to play or the kinds of songs he wanted to write.
"I had no paradigm for writing Christian music," he said. "I just started writing my prayers into my songs. It didn't take long to realize that the prayer portions of the songs were what people responded best to."
That approach still dominates Hall's songwriting. He is a musical mystic in the sense that he believes worship, both individual and corporate, brings the worshiper into direct contact with God. As such, he tends to focus on the character and grace of God and the experience of trying to be a faithful Christian rather than theological axioms. It's become a constant theme of critics.
"I don't know what to say to people who think my songs aren't scriptural enough," Hall said. "I believe everything I write is biblical. It may not quote verses, but the ideas are there. As big as 'Marvelous Light' has gotten, I still hear from people who say, 'Why are you talking about spinning around? I don't get it.' They think I may have influences from other religions."
He said he's stopped explaining himself as much as he used to when he first started.
"I believe that my experiences with God are scripturally true," he said. "I may not convince critics, but I believe God is holding me up, and he's put things into me to share."
"The Rising" reflects Hall's conviction that a life lived "walking straight with patience" will always lead to an encounter with something good, something beautiful. The title also reflects his experience that life is often a long, lonely climb. "Greg Horton