Himes reviews Barbara Allen CD

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Barbara Allen, teamed up with her producer/arranger husband, Steve, has created a CD that should appeal to anyone whose listening preferences fall in the “easy-listening, contemporary Christian” category. The twelve songs featured do a good job of showcasing Barbara’s expressive and versatile soprano voice in a variety of styles and idioms–with the help of a large cast of professional and Salvationist musicians.

Opening with the full chorus and orchestration of “Send it on down!” this funky, energetic toe-tapper is contrasted by the intimate string textures of the ballad, “Mercy saw me.” These two settings pretty much establish the range of idiom one can enjoy throughout.

When I came to the CD title track, “Through it all,” I must confess to being pleasantly surprised to discover that instead of the much-recorded Andraé Crouch classic, this was a fresh new thought by Randy Vader and Jay Rouse, which Barbara brings off with a combination of warmth and passion.

This collection abounds in variety. Whether bopping along to Steve Bulla’s big band setting of “That’s the Spirit,” savoring the sumptuous harmonies of “He is the same” (Carol Cymbala), or sharing a worship moment in “The Potter’s Hand,” one is struck by Barbara’s ability to do more than sing the right notes on key–she communicates the message of each with intensity and conviction.

As effective as this recording is, I have to say that, unlike many recording artists of the times, Barbara’s performance live and in person is even better. I think this is due to two factors: first, the balance and sonic perspective possible in a concert venue as opposed to the layering options of a multi-track studio, and secondly, Barbara’s winning personality, which connects so quickly with her audience.

If there is a critical point to be made, it would be in the mix of the tunes with large orchestration: In several instances I found myself wishing to hear less background and more Barbara.

Having said that, Steve Allen’s work behind the scenes, including his tasteful keyboards and original music and driving arrangement to Kenneth Hodder’s “Push back the dark,” and throughout certainly deserves recognition. This CD is obviously a team effort and, from this listener’s perspective, is well worth the effort.

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