One of the many lessons Hall has had to learn recently is that you can't rush God. Record labels' release schedules mean little to the Creator, especially when He has his own timetable for your life. So while Hall was originally scheduled to begin recording the follow-up to 2000's Porch and Altar in May of 2002, something wasn't right. He had more than 50 songs, but they just weren't fitting and life kept throwing him curves in the form of difficult relationships, doubts about musical direction, and an illness in the family. Whoever said "timing is everything" knew what he was talking about.
Before On The Road To Beautiful could be completed, Hall would need to begin a journey that had nothing to do with recording studios. In fact, it was a continuation of a trip that he'd embarked on years earlier. Raised in a traditional Baptist church, Hall turned away from that foundation for a handful of years "to fail as a human being," he says. During those wayward teen years, he found that failure and was left with the feeling that there had to be something more. Through a lot of exploration, God revealed Himself and by the end of high school Hall had completely turned around and was "reading the scriptures like mad."
That passion gave way to a youthful intensity that had Hall laying down his music, something he'd pursued since junior high, in favor of becoming a pastor, a path he felt would best allow him to lead others. It wasn't long, though, before God showed Hall another way to impact the faithful, one more in keeping with his unique gifts. At a worship event in Oklahoma City, Hall was struck by what he saw: people truly worshipping, connecting to God through music. After that, his course was set. Hall started singing and playing in church, often including his own original songs in the mix. Then he connected with a small group of college students who were meeting in a living room for prayer, scripture reading and worship, what Hall calls "church in its simplest form." That small group would eventually become Bridgeway Church, where Charlie would hone his skills as a lead worshipper in those early years and still serves that church today.
During this time, Hall also identified with Passion founder and director Louie Giglio whose heart was to awaken the 16 million college students in the nation to the reality of a glorious God. Hall joined the movement and began leading worship at the conferences including both OneDay gatherings, which drew tens of thousands of college students from every state in the US and numerous countries from around the world. As many of the gatherings were recorded live for album releases, Hall was quickly dubbed as a "voice" for the Passion movement, performing on all five Passion albums which have sold nearly a million units. Popularizing songs such as "Better Is One Day" and "Heart Of Worship," Hall also continued his solo career as an independent, eventually signing with sixstepsrecords upon its formation in 2000 and releasing Porch and Altar.
Now, after more than a decade of following God closely, Hall found he was due for a spiritual overhaul of sorts. "My intensity was exhausting me," Hall says now. "As I began to lay some of that aside, my devotion to God became something I didn't have to prove but something I could be."
Hall also found himself tested in other ways as he continued to push forward with the production of his second album. "Somewhere in the beginning of 2003, everything was culminating for me," Hall says. Conspiring may be more like it. While he admits none of the issues he was facing were enough to stop him in his tracks, together they managed to slow him down considerably. "Some of my relationships became confusing, my sister had cancer, some of my songs were being rejectedů it made me question my calling, my artistry, everything. All my crutches were being kicked out from under me."
With little left to lean on, Hall began to do a lot of letting go. "It was hard, but the bottom line is God was in all of that, preparing me for this next step. Now I'm more sure of who I am, I'm more sure of my calling and of what I'm supposed to be doing."
Suddenly, the timing was right. The music seemed to flow and the album came together under the direction of producer Nathan Nockels (Passion, Watermark, Phillips, Craig and Dean), a close friend since childhood, a former bandmate and fellow Passion artist whom Hall has known and worked with for years. All that soul-searching resulted in an open, honest collection of readily accessible songs that Hall proudly says represents "the core of who I am as opposed to all the things I'm supposed to be."
While the shape of much of Hall's music has been determined by the season his church is in at a particular time ("during Porch and Altar we were praying for revival nonstop," he says), other influences are beginning to shine through as well. Travis, Radiohead and singer/songwriters like Richard Ashcroft are serving as sources of inspiration lately. "I ended up realizing that I like simple, mature music. I love the digital loops and insane noises, but when it comes down to it, what I relate to most is the simple stuff and that's the sound here," Hall says of the new songs.
But whatever the style, Hall is clear on his main mission: "My job is to hold up a magnifying glass and show God to everyone here." And in the process, he hopes to leave a little of his heart behind to remind people of the reason behind the music.
There's plenty of heart to be found in the title track, a tune that traces Hall's difficult year. But while it talks of falling apart, it also offers hope for the journey as he reminds that while the road may be long, God is always waiting at the end of it. "Waking Up" also deals with the often-hard trials of life, but again focuses on the choices we can each make within those situations to "wake up" spiritually or to hit the snooze button.
Hall's favorite track is one that almost didn't make it on the record. "Holy Heart" rounds out the album and it's very personal. The track centers around the idea of "breaking off this casing that everybody lives in and allowing God to pull things out of my heart that aren't supposed to be there. He sees what's inside us anyway, but there's something about saying 'Here God, look. Take this stuff away.'"
More than the story of Hall's recent experiences, On The Road To Beautiful speaks of Hall's continuing spiritual journey. From his overzealous days as a young Christian to his struggle to find a place where his love for music and ministry could meet, to the stripping away and subsequent growth of recent years, it's all in there. As a result, On the Road to Beautiful is more than just music. It's the story of one man's ongoing pursuit of God. And for everyone who's ever determined to follow that spiritual path, it's your story too.