Joel Hanson is scaling new heights in his musical career, climbing along the shores of the once-mighty PFR, an eagle in the 1990s' Christian contemporary pop scene.
He spends his days as a youth counselor in a local year-round camp, but at night and in his off-hours the Baxter resident returns to the cliffs where he made his name.
Hanson recently released, under his own label, a solo album "Broken," his second in two years, and has signed a distribution agreement with a major Twin Cities concern that will market his works to Christian audiences, at a retail level.
He's also pursuing live engagements as a solo act with venues across the country, landing, among others, a concert Nov. 10 at Little Falls High School.
"This happens to fit very well with what I'm doing now," the singer-songwriter said in an interview this week. "I'm just continuing to write and go out and play and living my life through song."
At 35, this 1985 Brainerd High School grad is hitting his stride, as musician, as religious counselor and as a father. His wife, Kathy, and he now have a 2-year-old daughter, Halle Jo.
His inaugural solo effort, last year's "Captured," marked Hanson's return to high-volume music, after the brief hiatus that followed PFR's latest -- and perhaps the last -- reunion album in early 2001.
As lead singer, guitarist and songwriter, Hanson fronted the trio into national prominence, with PFR winning a Grammy Award nomination and other kudos for its memorable debut signature 1992 album, "Pray for Rain."
Joel Hanson's latest solo release is "Broken," picked up for distribution by Wesscott Marketing of the Twin Cities.
A half-dozen hits followed over the next several years, before the group disbanded -- for the first but not the last time -- in late 1996. They blamed "road exhaustion" and other factors at the time.
Patrick Andrew and Mark Nash, PFR's other architects, also went their separate ways, only to reunite with Hanson over the next few years for farewell concerts and other live performances.
The trio contributed, for example, a cut for the "Roaring Lambs" concept album, which found a strong audience among Christian-music listeners in 2000.
"Roaring Lambs" was backed by the Squint record label, a Nashville division of Gaylord Entertainment and a connection solidified by Nash's employment at the company, Hanson said.
Nash, along with label executives, coaxed the group back into the recording studio, releasing reunion album "Disappear" to critical acclaim. The single "Missing Love" soared up the Christian charts.
PFR was fast becoming the band that would never die, or perhaps never should die, as thousands of pop music fans would subscribe.
If you go
Who: Joel Hanson
What: Solo concert
Where: Little Falls High School auditorium
When: 3 p.m. Nov. 10
Cost: $10 at area Christian bookstores and at the gate
But the deal with Squint soon soured, as the label went out of business at corporate insistence, casting its long shadow over PFR's immediate future, Hanson said.
PFR continues to perform the occasional concert -- Hanson departs with the trio this weekend for a gig in Oklahoma -- in part "for the love of the music" but also to fulfill commitments made during the Squint deal, the musician said.
"Never name a record 'Disappear' because that's kind of what happened to our album," Hanson said. "The wheels came off pretty quick" after the company closed its doors.
A 27-city tour to promote the reunion album was sharply scaled back to nine, Hanson said, and the group absorbed promotional, travel and production costs it didn't expect.
Now PFR is paying the price with a schedule more active than its members anticipated.
Joel Hanson's first solo release was "Captured."
"We are out playing now because we love what we are doing and people have been kind enough to love it with us," Hanson said. "But we're also taking care of anything that is outstanding. It's the honorable thing to do."
One thing that is not in the cards is a follow-up album as PFR.
"There's no recording in the wind," Hanson said. "It's just better for us to go out and enjoy playing the shows."
Little Falls is his next solo date, with a 3 p.m. curtain call Nov. 10 in the high school auditorium.
Jim Anthony, a Christian country artist, will open the show, promoted by Separate Sounds Music Ministry of Little Falls and several area churches. Tickets are $10, available at several area Christian bookstores, as well as at the gate.
Hanson is expected to appear with his studio band, with Justin Korhonen on drums, Mark Johnson on bass and Luke Fredrickson on guitar. All are from the Twin Cities.
PFR will resonate in Hanson's solo act, but "there is a different feel in the music," the artist said. "What I'm doing now is equally enjoyable and powerful and compelling, and as long as it can be that, I'm in."
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