I love aspen trees. When I was a child, my dad often traveled on business and came home with gifts for us. I have abalone jewelry from New Zealand, traditional clothing from India, and coins and pottery from Guatemala. But one of my favorite keepsakes came from a place much less exotic. When I was eight or nine, my dad came home from Colorado with an aspen leaf pendant for me and each of my sisters. Nothing flashy, just little rust-colored leaves preserved inside a clear coating and dangling from golden chains. I had never seen an aspen tree, so the gift didn't initially hold any particular significance for me. It was pretty, and it was from my father. I liked it. But it came to mean something altogether different to me when I was 11, and my father took us to the aspens.
For a generation of British children, growing up in the UK meant there was a good chance that you cut your literary teeth on the writing of Enid Blyton. Amongst her best loved work was an adventure series called “The Secret Seven” and I think it was there that I first learned what it was to lose myself in a story. At the centre of the action was an old garden shed where seven children would perch on upturned flower pots, drink lemonade, solve mysteries, and come up with plans to unmask the latest gang of dastardly villains. The plot lines were not particularly complex but it mattered little, such was the appeal of that band of friends. Long before I found the words to name it, I was pulled in by the sense of belonging and common purpose that bound the children together. So much so that I decided to form my own “Secret Seven.” The perfect headquarters was already in place. A cellar as thick with dust and cobweb as it was with possibility, accessed by a little wooden door at the side of my grandparents’ house and masked by a wall of tall thick trees. Somehow I managed to convince six of my classmates to sign up. At the pre-arranged time they stole into my back garden, sneakers tracing a silent path through the long shadows. One by one they knocked on the little door, muttered the secret password and slipped quietly into the underground room.
First things first: Tomorrow morning at 11am, bring the family to Logos Bookstore in Nashville for the double-feature of Jonathan Rogers' re-release party for the Wilderking Trilogy and a Slugs & Bugs sing-along with Randall Goodgame. Good times. Good folks. Hope to see some of you there. Kicking off the week, Matt Conner brought the Monday Music Update. Click here to check out news from Ron Block (and Jeff Taylor and Rebecca Reynolds), Andrew Osenga, Rain for Roots (Ellie Holcomb, Flo Paris, Sandra McCracken, Katy Bowser), Waterdeep, and Ben Shive (and Kelly Rae Burton). In addition to taking pictures of fine imbibables (pretty sure I made that word up, but it definitely needs to be a word) and doodling, Barbara Lane also teaches English as a second language. This week she wrote a post called "Wordlessly" in which she talks about the ability of words and stories to build bridges between people. A while back, Doug McKelvey began a series of posts called "Subjects With Objects Unplugged," in which he shares a behind-the-scenes look at his method of extracting meaning from (or possibly imparting meaning to) Jonathan Richter's paintings. I LOVE these posts, and this latest one, in which he waxes eloquent on the nature of materialism, is one of my favorites. Chris Stewart is the last of our new contributors to enter the Room. He's an illustrator and a graphic designer (you may recognize his work from The Molehill covers or the Hutchmoot 2013 poster), and he debuted this week with a post about procrastination and the importance of trusting in the process of the creative act. But wait! It's a double-whammy and turns out to be a great post about Easter and New Creation as well. Nicely done, Chris. And finally, Jason Gray's new record, Love Will Have the Final Word, was released a few weeks ago, and here he is with a short breakdown of the album, a look at how it came together, and a few other good words about the project. Have a great weekend. We'll see you tomorrow at Logos Bookstore.
After months of hard work, Love Will Have The Final Word is finally finished, released, and in listeners' hands. The record is more intentionally acoustic, but is less about sonic reinvention than it is about emotional vulnerability. To mix things up musically this go around, I did something I’ve never done before---splitting the project between two different producers: Jason Ingram and Cason Cooley. Wanting to build on the momentum of our earlier collaborations that have connected at radio, I re-teamed with Jason Ingram for seven of the eleven tracks. I love getting to chase after songs with him that we hope have legitimate commercial viability as well as a sonic distinctive and both heart and something worth saying. But I also had such an amazing experience working with Cason Cooley on my Christmas record that I couldn’t imagine making a record without him. With Centricity (my label) feeling confident that the commercial considerations were in place, the remaining five tracks were more or less our playground.
First let me give you my warmest computer blog "Hello!" and thank you for welcoming me into the Rabbit Room as though this were my inaugural post---because it may very well be. I don't know. Things are magical around here and the order in which posts roll out is a mystery on par with a certain Wardrobe. [Editor's note: I heard that.] I post today in order to open up, to share, to be vulnerable. The amazing thing about being surrounded by other creators of art (and I am obviously including every art form here: writing, illustrating, singer/songwriting . . . think Yul Brynnar's "Etcetera! Etectera!'") as well as lovers of, and subscribers to, the arts, is that I can feel free to share bits and pieces of my own process. There's a terrible freedom in that. And I use the word "terrible" because I mean to indicate the very real sense of Terror that comes upon me when I so much as contemplate acting on this freedom (the way I am acting on it this very instant!). As I write today, I am one of many millions of Christians who are continuing to walk through Lent of 2014. Easter swiftly approaches (thankfully) but as we are still in Lent, and as a Christian who also happens to be a producer of visual, written, and audible art, it makes sense for me (indeed, for us all) to lean in to Process. I do mean all of it, too---the messiness of it, the uncertainty of it, the scattered incoherence of it. Process. The very word makes my skin crawl, even as I contemplate just how necessary and, frankly, inevitable it is. I am humbled to say that I was asked, along with other visual artists within my church family, to contribute a complete piece on the theme of Resurrection that will be unveiled on Easter morning and remain open for anyone to view until Pentacost, fifty days later. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will also add that I was asked back in---February. Any guesses as to just how long I've actually been working on the piece (you can see an incomplete portion of it above)? Since April 6th. Yeah, that's this past weekend. We've had a few solid months---and I started work yesterday. We have until the 12th to turn something in, so now I have the looming specter of a deadline hanging over me, haunting me into action.
[Editor's note: If you're in Franklin, Tennessee, be sure to stop by the 5 Points Starbucks where there's currently a Subjects With Objects art print show hanging on the walls.] An Explanation for the Uninitiated: Subjects With Objects is an ongoing, collaborative art project forever ordered according to the following rules: A shadowy public spaces painter sets up in pubs and executes spontaneous portraits at the rate of one painting per pint. He then hands off those enigmatic little ocular disturbances to a semi-anonymous poet & novelist who lives with them long enough to solicit their otherworldly mumblings and ephemeral whispers, distilling each of their essences into a line or two of poetic prose. The painter is Jonathan Richter. The poet is UNKNOWN & UNKNOWABLE, so it is best NOT TO EVEN ASK! However, for the sake of convenience we may refer to him as DKM.
Untitled 46 (2008) Things Vs. Us
Theoretically, we’re told, a man could gain the whole world and still show a loss on his balance sheet. But at least that guy got the world. What are we getting?Soviet dissident, novelist, and GULAG-survivor Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, rankled feathers during his 1978 Harvard Commencement Address. The rankling was not on account of his passing references to the dismal and sometimes brutal outworkings of the Communist ideology he and millions of his countrymen had suffered under for decades. Such references were expected and mostly welcomed. No, what disturbed many of Solzhenitsyn’s American listeners was that he also had the gall to turn his eyes towards the West, and to lift his voice as one crying in the wilderness. Aleksandr, who had endured harsh years in a Stalinist labor camp in Siberia, now sought to warn his American listeners of the possibility that our pursuit of comfort and material successes had come at the cost of a greater spiritual impoverishment. I know, right?
“There's nothing worthless about being wordless, it will only save your mouth from talking gibberish.” —Michael Bassey Johnson “Good morning, maestra. How are you?” “I’m well, how are you?” “I am good . . . thank you.” Her English is halting and deeply sincere. We look into each other’s eyes for a brief moment, both of us willing to say more---if only we spoke the same language. We are building a bridge as the weeks pass, but our work doesn’t seem like progress. She learns my language more quickly than I learn hers---that is, after all, why we meet. She wants to learn English; I can speak it. She is one of a handful of adult students from Mexico, China, and Vietnam. We sit together for an hour every morning, enter into the same rhythm: I read, they repeat, I annunciate, they repeat. They strain to wrap their lips around the contours of this strange language, but their tongues refuse reform. Their accents add intricate flourishes to words that would otherwise escape my notice.
Mixing begins this week on the forthcoming album from Ron Block and Jeff Taylor. The album features 10 original hymn-style songs and lyrics from Rebecca Reynolds. In addition, vocalists Suzanne Cox, Julie Lee, Ellie Holcomb, Skye Peterson, and several others contribute alongside fine musicians like Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Luke Bulla (fiddle), Sierra Hull (mando), and John Mock (bodhran). Tomorrow night at 8:00 CST, Andrew Peterson and his family are putting on their first-ever AP and the Family Band show, live and online via StageIt. The show will feature Skye Peterson on piano, Asher Peterson on percussion, Aedan Peterson on guitar, and Jamie Peterson on BGVs. They've been rehearsing hard all week, and are nervously excited. Click here for details. Andrew Osenga is released his Heart EP to the masses last Tuesday (available here). Details are forthcoming on a Stageit show to highlight the new songs (and more). A new Rain for Roots project is releasing tomorrow, April 8, entitled The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like This. Rain for Roots is a collective that features Sandra McCracken, Flo Paris, Katy Bowser, and Ellie Holcomb (among others) with the intent of making scripture songs for children. If you missed the first Rain for Roots album, Big Stories for Little Ones, check out Randall Goodgame's review here. Waterdeep has already met their Kickstarter goal for a double album, which speaks to the thirst for new music from Don and Lori Chaffer. Make sure to check out the hilarious video and then sign up for one of several great exclusives available. And finally, there's only a few hours left in Kelly Rae Burton's Kickstarter campaign. Ben Shive is producing and he's really excited about the project. Read more about Ben's involvement and listen to an unfinished track here.
The biggest news this week was the more or less instant sell-out of Hutchmoot 2014 tickets. Once again, we wish there was room for everyone who wants to come, but it just isn't so. For those who snatched up a golden ticket, we'll see you in October. For those who weren't so lucky, you're welcome to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll add your name to the waiting list---and neither is that an empty hope; each year we've gone all the way through the waiting list trying to fill last minute vacancies. Here's what else has been going on lately: Eric Peters recently sat down with Barry Dunlap of the Twelve-Minute Muse to discuss music (including his new EP, Counting My Rings), books (including the Book Mole), painting, metaphor, inspiration, and a whole passel of other things (including LSU football). If you've got 12 minutes (or so) to spare, check it out here, or just hit play below. Allow me to make a confession. I've never heard any of Gungor's music. Chris Yokel has, though, and his post last week about their new film, Let There Be, sounds fascinating. I suppose I'm going to have to get out of the old folks' home and go listen to some of that new music. We'll see. Where's my cane? The cat-maligning Sam Smith poked his head out of the Story Warren with a few words of wisdom about introverts and . . . Star Trek. Can a bizarre Patrick Stewart meme be far behind? All joking aside, it's a great post. Sam never ceases to amaze me with his ability to shine light on things and speak with gentle wisdom. If only he'd stop hiding all that good stuff behind his raging cat-hatred. Ben Shive is working on lots of new projects these days, and one of them is a record from a young artist you probably haven't heard of, Kelly Burton (check out her Kickstarter campaign here). I've had the pleasure of hearing Ben and Kelly working in the next room, and I'm really looking forward to the finished album. Ben wrote a great article this week about the processing of co-writing. If you're a songwriter, or really an artist of any sort, and you've found yourself in the sometimes-awkward position of collaborator, this is definitely worth your time. Good stuff. Check out the link to listen to a rough cut of one of the tracks Ben co-wrote for Kelly's record. In cooperation with Rabbit Room Press, Jonathan Rogers has finally put his long out-of-print Wilderking Trilogy back into readers' hands. The books look great and you can order them in the Rabbit Room store, or anywhere else great books are sold. In commemoration of the release, Andrew Peterson wrote a post this week about his introduction to Jonathan and his work. Read it here. David Michael Bruno dropped in with a post called "Good Middle," which happens to be great from beginning to end. He writes about relationships, both between each of us and between us and God, and illustrates the importance of making sure "there's some good middle happening." Strangely, the subject of jelly donuts is not addressed. Confused? Don't be. Read his post. And last, but definitely most, Andrew Osenga gave birth to a new EP this week. Heart is the first of his four-EP project, Heart & Soul, Flesh & Bone. He wrote up a song-by-song analysis of the record for us and you can read it here, along with previews of each track. Good stuff. Thanks, Andy.
[Editor's note: Andy Osenga's new EP, Heart, is now available. Here's Andy with a song-by-song breakdown of the record. Enjoy.] "No Heart Beats Alone" My friend Russ Ramsey had open heart surgery this past year (you may have read about it here). He was telling me about all he was learning about the heart and how it works and said he asked the doctor if it was hard to get the heart beating again once you stopped it. The doctor replied, "No, it's hard to get it to stop. It starts right up. The heart is made to beat. It wants to beat." How powerful. Two heart cells floating in a petri dish will, Russ told me, find each other and begin beating in time. No heart can beat alone. The guitar at the end is my Les Paul, through my new Tyler JT45, on some stage in some church somewhere between soundcheck and the show. [audio:1_Heart_clips.mp3]