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Matt Conner

writer, music journalist

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and journalist who has interviewed nearly everyone who has ever played music. That isn't entirely true.

Coffee Shop Symphony

“If you want to get in touch with creation, ride the bus or take the subway.” -maybe, possibly, Eugene Peterson

I wasn’t given a playbill, and it definitely started without me, but I’m enjoying the symphony nevertheless. I’m settled into a cold corner table near the kitchen, and the coffee shop is well into the performance. An orchestra of voices already warmed, already in tune, already swelling in unpredictable harmonies.

The girl wearing the bandana and workout clothes looks like she has yet to make it to the gym. Maybe she’ll exercise after she’s done telling a friend about the fear she has of telling Brian she loves him too. College kids gather around laptops, textbooks open, minds and hearts alive only in whatever has them laughing—likely not the subject matter of their assignments. A couple of tourists are wrapping a “wonderful” weekend trip to Nashville—We should do it again sometime.

Monday Music Update – 4/21/14

Don and Lori Chaffer recently put the kick in Kickstarter campaigns by raising over $40,000 toward a brand new double album from Waterdeep. The total more than doubled the original goal, which means the Chaffers plan on delivering the music twice as fast. That last part is not true.

Randall Goodgame will be playing two free Slugs & Bugs shows this weekend. The first is on Friday, April 25 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The second show will be on Sunday, April 27 in Vincennes, Indiana. Check the S&B tour page for full details.

Andy Osenga will play a special Stageit show on Tuesday, April 29 at 7:00pm. Appropriately titled “Andrew’s Reverse MidLife Crisis Eve,” it’s Andy’s last show before joining Capitol Records in his brand new full time job as A&R for their Christian music division! The show begins at 7:30 CT.

Andrew Peterson spent two days with Ben Shive in the studio recording his version of the Rich Mullins song “Calling Out Your Name.” The track is for an upcoming CD release related to the film Ragamuffin. Several familiar faces contributed on vocals, including Jeremy Casella, Andy Gullahorn, Andy Osenga, Eric Peters, and Jill Phillips.

After a hugely successful Northeast Spring Break tour (eight shows in eight days thanks to you, Rabbits!), Son of Laughter is currently scheduling another series of living room shows throughout the country this summer during the months of June and July. While he is starting to line up shows in the Southwest and Midwest, he is open to just about anything. If you’re interested in organizing an event, contact Chris Slaten at [email protected].

Monday Music Update – 4/7/14

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.

 

Monday Music Update – 03/17/14

Chris Slaten is breaking away from his normal teaching duties to strap on a guitar and play the Son of Laughter Spring Break Tour of the Northeast. He’ll play several dates through West Virginia, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Head over to his website to check out all of the details. Lots of these shows are shaping up to be “mini-moots.”

Ron Block and Jeff Taylor have been writing and recording original hymns with Rebecca Reynolds. The record is an all-original hymns project based on acoustic guitar and piano, with other instruments joining in on various songs—accordion, banjo, bodhran, mandolin, whistles, fiddle, strings, pump organ, concertina. Julie Lee, Ellie Holcomb, Suzanne Cox, Lisa Forbes and Jay Forbes of the Forbes Family, and Skye Peterson are slated for harmony vocals.

Jill Phillips is starting to record her new record this week, currently in pre-production. Jill also recently finished up one of the songs with another one of our favorite writers, Sandra McCracken. You can catch Jill and her husband, Andy Gullahorn, this next week in San Antonio and Waco. Check out the details here.

Monday Music Update – 03/03/14

Ron Block and Jeff Taylor are working on a new album that Ron describes as “sparse and restful.” The album features lyrics from RR contributor Rebecca Reynolds and will feature 12-13 new songs, many in the style of old hymns. Some tracks have already been featured here at the Rabbit Room. Check out “Come, Children of this Long, Discarded Night” and “Everything Broken and Everything Beautiful” for a preview.

Jeremy Casella successfully met his Kickstarter goal for his forthcoming album, Death in Reverse. Don’t miss Jeremy’s post on the album’s background entitled “My Search for Joy in the Presence of the Future“.

Don Chaffer has been busy writing and producing, including a new instrumental album for licenselab.com. As a producer, he finished up a new album for Sara Swenson and is working on another with Ben Kilgore. Don says he and Lori are slowly working on a new Waterdeep album.

Randall Goodgame has an upcoming Slugs & Bugs StageIt show on Saturday, March 15. Check out the Slugs & Bugs Facebook page. Official details coming soon.

Jason Gray‘s new album, Love Will Have The Final Word, will be available this Tuesday, March 4. Check back tomorrow to listen to one of the new tracks.

Andy Gullahorn has a show on March 15 in Columbus, GA at Crosspointe Church for their Poets, Painters, and Storytellers concert series. He will be joined by songwriter Allen Levi and painter Wellon Bridgers.

Monday Music Update – 02/17/14

Ron Block and Jeff Taylor are working on a new album that Ron describes as “very sparse and restful.” The album features lyrics from RR contributor Rebecca Reynolds and will feature 12-13 new songs, many in the style of old hymns. Some tracks have already been featured here at the Rabbit Room. Check out “Come, Children of this Long, Discarded Night” and “Everything Broken and Everything Beautiful” for a preview.

Jeremy Casella still has nearly two weeks left on the Kickstarter campaign for his new album, Death in Reverse. Don’t miss Jeremy’s post on the album’s background entitled “My Search for Joy in the Presence of the Future“.

Jason Gray is prepping for the release of his new album, Love Will Have The Final Word, on March 4.

Andy Gullahorn has a show on March 15 in Columbus, GA at Crosspointe Church for their Poets, Painters, and Storytellers concert series. He will be joined by songwriter Allen Levi and painter Wellon Bridgers.

Eric Peters recently released a new four-song EP, Counting My Rings: B-sides. Eric also recently posted a song-by-song description of the EP.

While Chris Slaten, the man behind Son of Laughter, is currently on the hook for a spring semester of teaching, he’s also organizing a series of “free” house shows in the areas of Texas, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania during spring and summer breaks. If interested, you can e-mail Chris at [email protected].

Monday Music Update – 02/03/14

Jeremy Casella is in the midst of a new Kickstarter campaign for his forthcoming album, Death in Reverse. We’ll have more from Jeremy later in the week, but don’t miss your chance to hear the music early along with several other exclusives. Check out the campaign page for more information.

Don and Lori Chaffer are staying busy with several projects. They’re currently writing and demoing several country songs with writer Tom Douglas (“The House that Built Me”), writing instrumental music for licensing, and also slowly chipping away on a new Waterdeep record. The latter, according to Don, is “taking a very slow boat right now.”

Josh Garrels is finishing up construction of his new studio, and a new album will be underway as soon as it’s complete. The expected release date is sometime this summer, and the album will once again feature Mason Jar Music (who also appeared on Love & War & The Sea In Between) and A Boy & His Kite.

Jason Gray recently wrapped up his new record, Love Will Have The Final Word, and will release it on March 4. It was produced by Jason Ingram and Cason Cooley, and Jason says it might be his most personal group of songs yet. He says, “I didn’t write to a theme as much as I watched for one to emerge, and the common thread of all these songs is the power of love to heal fear and shame, and to make us new.” In addition, his son, Kipper, produced two songs that will appear on a special edition version of the record.

Eric Peters is releasing a brand new digital EP, Counting My Rings: B-Sides, tomorrow. The four-song EP includes three unreleased tracks and an unreleased demo of “Traveling Onion.” Look for full details tomorrow on the Rabbit Room.

While Chris Slaten, the man behind Son of Laughter, is currently on the hook for a spring semester of teaching, he’s also organizing a series of “free” house shows in the areas of Texas, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania during spring and summer breaks. If interested, you can e-mail Chris at [email protected].

Monday Music Update – Jan 20, 2014

Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors are heading on their first tour of Ireland and the United Kingdom, following their release of Good Light last February. The album debuted #1 on the iTunes singer-songwriter charts.

Ellie Holcomb is releasing her first full-length record, As Sure As The Sun, this spring after a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign. The lead single, “The Broken Beautiful,” heads to Christian Radio on January 31st.

Sandra McCracken will be the featured musical guest, along with Lori Chaffer, at Laity Lodge for an upcoming women’s retreat from Jan 23-26. Speakers for the weekend are Laura Robinson Harbert and Susan E. Isaacs.

Andy Osenga‘s new EP, The Heart, should reach Kickstarter backers very soon. It will be available in the Rabbit Room Store in the next few weeks. Before he heads back out on the road with Steven Curtis Chapman and Josh Wilson (including a show at Carnegie Hall!), he’ll be working in the studio with Laura Story on a new Christmas record.

Eric Peters is releasing a new project, Counting My Rings: B-sides, on February 4. The digital-only release will feature four songs, including three previously unreleased tracks and an alternate version of “Traveling Onion,” originally heard on Chrome.

Jill Phillips is finished with half of the songs on a new record that she and Andy will record later this winter or spring. Of the recording, she says, “Andy and I are going to produce it ourselves this time and record at our house, the songs seem to be lending themselves to simplicity in production.”

While Chris Slaten, the man behind Son of Laughter, is currently on the hook for a spring semester of teaching, he’s also organizing a series of “free” house shows in the areas of Texas, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania during spring and summer breaks. If interested, you can e-mail Chris at [email protected].

Monday Music Update – Jan 6, 2014

In the spirit of the new year, we’ve made a resolution to keep you more informed than ever, which means a new series called the Monday Music Update, a bi-weekly post about all of our favorite musicians and what they are up to. While some are still resting from busy touring seasons leading up to the holidays, other artists are already out of the gate in 2014. Here’s the latest:

Randall Goodgame, Andy Osenga, Eric Peters and Andrew Peterson will be participating in a special StageIt show from the Warren on Tuesday, January 7th. There are limited tickets, so make sure to head to the StageIt site and secure your spot fast.

Josh Garrels has made his three Love & War & The Sea In Between-related releases available for free on Noisetrade to those who still haven’t downloaded them all. The most recent entry is the audio soundtrack for The Sea In Between documentary. In addition, NPR recently featured Josh’s music in their story “A Christian Musician With More Questions Than Answers.”

Jason Gray has a few tour dates around the country in January and February before he heads out on The Bible Tour this spring. In conjunction with the popular mini-series, Gray will join Chris August, Sidewalk Prophets, and several others on a two-month spring tour hosted by World Vision.

Buddy Greene will be playing a few dates in Texas in January followed by a house show in Vail, Colorado at the end of the month. And for those of you still in the holiday spirit, don’t miss out on Buddy’s new album December’s Song.

Ellie Holcomb finishes up her first-ever Kickstarter campaign early this week for her new full-length album of scripture-inspired songs. She’s already well past her initial goal, but stretch goals and cool exclusives are still available if you’re interested.

Sandra McCracken will be the featured musical guest, along with Lori Chaffer, at Laity Lodge for an upcoming women’s retreat from Jan 23-26. Speakers for the weekend will be Laura Robinson Harbert and Susan E. Isaacs.

Andrew Osenga recently gave his fans a behind-the-scenes glimpse of both tours that have taken up much of his fall and winter seasons. Osenga spent several weeks on the road with Steven Curtis Chapman on the Glorious Unfolding Tour and followed that up with another year on the Behold The Lamb of God tour. We’ll have an update soon enough on Osenga’s first of four EPs on the way (four-thcoming?), but for now check out the recaps before he heads back out on tour this spring with SCC.

Eric Peters will be playing a show in Nashville with Nick Flora and Jon Morris at Bongo Java’s After Hours Theater on Sat., January 11th. Tickets are $7. Sounds like a good time for a meet-up with local RR readers before hitting the show together.

Adventus

My wife and I recently spent an evening out discussing our childhood memories of the holiday season. I didn’t have much to share. I am an only child raised by a single mother, so the discussion of Christmas tradition is a short one with me. One year, I remember convincing my mother to leave the decorations in the back of the closet. I didn’t feel like retrieving them and the fuss wasn’t worth livening up a house for two. She still regrets that one.

As a member of a small family who put very little thought or preparation into the Christmas season, it’s not a surprise that we got very little out of it. The season consisted of a few presents, an artificial tree, and visits with rarely-seen family members. Rinse, repeat.

One year my mother wanted to inject some meaning into the holiday, and it’s the only memory that stands out for me. I remember complaining when my mother said we were going to read the Bible before opening presents. Specifically, we read about the birth of Jesus. I was anxious to unwrap new toys, I’m sure, but I remember sitting there as a frustrated adolescent while my mother opened the scriptures and read aloud the birth narrative.

Fast forward several years. My wife and I are now awaiting a birth of our own. We’re just a few weeks away from the arrival of our baby boy. For the last several months, we’ve endured a wide range of emotions, asked questions, considered names, asked more questions, discussed parenting techniques, and prepared our home. We have painted and rearranged, registered and unwrapped, laughed and cried. We have inhabited our own advent season.

RR Interview: Arthur Alligood

If you were at this year’s Hutchmoot, you will undoubtedly remember the moment a roomful of people came alive to a new voice among the mix of Square Pegs and Friends. Arthur Alligood hadn’t picked up a guitar in over a year, and even then was uncertain how the night would go. After playing two songs, the songwriter described the night as a “glorious moment” and one that would lead to newfound inspiration.

If you’re new to Arthur’s music, his ability to stand out even in a songwriter’s circle speaks to his incredible ability to connect so deeply and meaningfully. His music is now available in the Rabbit Room store. Look for a sample of one of his songs at the end of the interview.

You just played Hutchmoot and told us it was your first time playing in a while. Just how long has it been?

I think I played a show last September if I am remembering correctly. It was miserable, I do remember that. There are not many things worse than being away when in your heart you just want to be home. So, its been a little over a year since I’ve performed. I desperately needed a break from the touring machine. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still on break.

But I can’t imagine a better way to reenter performing than to share a couple of songs at Hutchmoot! I feel grateful to have been invited to play. I’d like to attend the entire retreat next year, if I can get a ticket. I hear they go pretty fast.

For those who weren’t at Hutchmoot, the room came alive and people started clapping along to “Darkness to Light.” How was that moment for you?

RR Interview: Russ Ramsey

As the Advent season approaches, Behold The Lamb of God will be a popular topic of conversation around the Rabbit Room. Andrew Peterson’s album and subsequent tour has become a beloved tradition for many at Christmas time. The addition of Russ Ramsey’s book added a new dimension, telling the Advent narrative in 25 chapters as a lead-in to Christmas Day.

This year, we’re proud to introduce the special Behold the Lamb of God audiobook, read by Russ himself. The book was always intended to be read aloud, so the audiobook presents the material in the way it was intended to be taken in. The way in which we hear a story can alter it entirely, and Russ hopes the familiar becomes fresh in this new offering.

What’s the hidden challenge in making an audiobook? Is the process different than you thought it would be?

RR interview: Ellie Holcomb

Every holiday season, many of us enjoy the old, old story of Christmas told through the songs of Andrew Peterson and friends. Behold the Lamb of God has become a holiday tradition in the last decade, and the Proprietor serves his audience well by inviting such a talented group of friends to carry the message alongside him. Each year brings a new face or two on the winter tour, and this year Ellie Holcomb is the newcomer.

For those who aren’t acquainted with her work alongside husband Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors or her own solo releases (check out her new EP, With You Now), you’ll find that Ellie’s delicate vocals fit perfectly into the BTLOG mix.

You’re on the Behold the Lamb of God tour this year for the first time, correct?

Yes. I’m in a band with my husband and it’s called Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, and every year for the past five or six years we’ve done a Christmas tour ourselves, and it has been awesome. But because of that, I have never been able to actually go to a Behold the Lamb of God show. We just always make sure we’re not doing our Christmas show in Nashville on the same days they’re doing Lamb of God. We usually have to make sure we go to a different city.

Last year was the first chance I had to go. We had just had out little girl—she was maybe two weeks old— and because I’d had a baby, we weren’t doing our Christmas tour to the same degree. So we ended up being in town on the same night as the show, and I just laughed and wept through the whole thing. It was so wonderful. I was like, “This is the best thing ever!”

Review: Over the Rhine – Meet Me at the Edge of the World

[Over at my website, Stereo Subversion, John Barber recently reviewed the wonderful new double album from Over the Rhine. Here’s what he had to say.]

Nobody does double albums like Over the Rhine. Their 2003 magnum opus, Ohio, is one of the best records of the 21st century. Married couple Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler consistently deliver good music album after album, and in terms of quality, Meet Me at the Edge of the World is no different. Nor is it a surprise when the new album is a double. For fans of the band, it’s like finding out that twins are on the way.

What’s different about this record is the tone. Meet Me at the Edge of the World is unique in that it feels a bit like the listener is an intruder, eavesdropping on something special. The audience is somehow a witness to a great love story. The songs are intimate and quiet. They’re love songs written and sung by Detweiler and Bergquist to each other, and most importantly, for each other.

You can read the rest of John Barber’s review at Stereo Subversion.

RR Interview: Melanie Penn

“If I had a donut for every time I’ve listened to this album I’d be dead by now.” -The Proprietor, on Melanie Penn’s Wake Up Love.

After winning us over with her debut three years ago, Melanie Penn returns this fall with Hope Tonight. Working once again with Ben Shive, Melanie believes if you’re a fan of the first album then this one will win you over, too. We talked to Melanie to find out how she’s been spending her time and what to expect on Hope Tonight.

Can you tell us what you’ve been up to creatively speaking?

I finished production on the new album, Hope Tonight. Ben Shive produced it and partnering together again for this album brought a lot of joy, laughs, and inspiration. I also had the opportunity to bring Steve Elliot to Nashville to record a lot of the guitars. It was great to involve a musician from my New York family—something I wasn’t able to do on Wake Up Love.

There’s some other stuff happening in New York. I try to be involved as much as I can in sessions, and I love co-writing with some dear friends there. I’m also singing in other bands, and leading worship at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Resurrection Park Slope. My main push this fall, though, will be to get Hope Tonight out there.

You have your debut in the rearview mirror, so did the approach to the new album feel different?