You’d be hard-pressed to find an album in 2016 that mixes two distinct styles of Christian music so bravely, if not flawlessly. Antoine Diel is not only classically trained but a big Mahalia Jackson fan to boot, and his collaboration with Sam Kuslan’s storefront church organ and New Orleans masters–style piano makes for strange bedfellows indeed: an operatic take on European Christian standards on the one hand, and fullon black gospel with a strong Crescent City flavor on the other. The two styles don’t necessarily blend, but they do seem at home next to each other, largely because Diel, like his idol before him, knows the sweet spot between the two traditions. It’s no coincidence that he covers three Mahalia Jackson standards in “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” “It Don’t Cost Very Much” and “I’m Gonna Live the Life I Sing About in My Song.”
For the rest of the album the styles split right down the middle, although “Precious Lord” manages to be plenty funky without a drumbeat of any kind, and “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” reverses the equation with a surprising stateliness and a few R&B touches. The real revelation here is a version of “How Great Thou Art” that couldn’t have come from anywhere but the Crescent City, replete with jazz-funeral double-time in the second half. One of Diel’s earlier albums placed its back cover at the street corner of New Orleans and Hope, which puts it somewhere between war-torn Gentilly and St. Roch; this collab is that dream made real.