Saturday, November 22, 2008

Last Chance to Influence the picks for Best Of CD

Here are the suggestions so far for what to include on the JRL Best Of . The rules: songs have to be from: (1) The 5 Song Demo, Seconds to Sunrise, JRL10, Caught In the Paydirt, Now, or Balloon (unreleased), OR (2) if they are unreleased, they have to be a bonus track. Remember -- this may be the only piece of JRL some people ever get, so these are grave decisions with long term consequences! Make your voice heard. Speak now (or in next couple days) and I'll take your ideas into account. You may leave your suggestions as comments.

We've all got this, Holy 3x (disqualified)

Play, Past Yourself, Anywhere My Love, Better Days, Sunfire Faces

29 years, Circle, Conversation, Despite Hell, Inside, , Sunfire Faces, Waterfallonme (disqualified)

29 Years, Anywhere My Love, Better, Counting Road Signs, Get In Get Over It, Inside (turned out nicely on the recording), Just to Be Loved, Like You Do, Sunfire Faces, Possession or Conversation, When I Leave

29 years (shortened), Anywhere my love, better days, the landline version of better, christmas card, Get in get over it, Inside, just to be loved, this could be the day(remixed with new bass), when I leave,when she smiles, Like you do, Sunslide, Times squared, you could break my heart,

Megan (VA)
Camellia Drive Lullaby, You Could Break My Heart

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The final projects

So I finished up in the studio after a year and a half. I'm really happy about this last JRL record. Nate Butler is at some of his best (he's drummed on every JRL studio album that had drums), there's a couple of great bass players on it (Allen from the old bands Willoughby-Wilson and the Walter Eugenes -- great bass player). Also a smattering of other stuff - Rhodes, accordian, etc.

I'm working on the cover design and hope to have the thing out in about two weeks. The plan is to do a couple cd release/final JRL shows, hopefully one in VA, OH and IN at least. I'm really excited about the recording and feel that it is a great way to end the JRL period of my music.

I'm also thinking about doing a best of cd for new listeners who aren't ready to wade through 5 1/2 recordings but want to hear the stuff. I'm taking suggestions for what should be on that compilation...

Thanks for the interaction on the recent posts, by the way. It's great to hear other people's thoughts on the creative process and the battles that go along with artmaking.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Resurrection of Something

The end of JRL was, I think, the beginning of my sabbatical from the Arts Mountain (that part of culture that really is, primarily about making something creative, powerful, beautiful, different, relevant, inexplicable (and only secondarily about other things -- making money, religion, education, values, protest, etc)). I've remained active on other "mountains" -- business, education, church. I've even done some creative things there, but I've been away from the Arts Mountain and the music world.

And all sorts of stuff has come out of me while I've traveled: Frustration, disappointment, weaknesses, patterns that need changing, needs that have been ignored, etc.

I've been questioning. Am I really called to the arts mountain? Do I have what it takes? Am I deluded? Why haven't I gotten farther than I have? Is the call real? What is that call exactly?

Somewhere during all this I've begun to listen to music again and explore new stuff. I haven't done that for a long, long time. Yellowman. The Black Keys. The White Stripes. Stars, Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Band of Horses, Bon Iver, TV on the Radio.

What do I write if I have no parameters? (One of my highlights during the Greenhouse Project arts internship was to see what came out when people wrote with very few parameters).

I think I may be coming past the heart of the desert now. It feels like there may be life on the other side. I may be called to climb the arts mountain. My dreams may be a gift, seeds from God's garden. I may have something to give that's needed in the music world, on the arts mountain. It may matter if I quit this part of the race. I may make it over this plateau where I've been stuck. I may flourish. I may live and not die. Who knows?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Good and Bad News from the artist formerly known as JRL

Good and Bad News from the artist formerly known as JRL

So I'm listening to the rough versions of the new record and I'm in that phase where it sounds bad to me. Yes, it's not finally mixed or mastered yet. But it's my own weaknesses I hear -- vocal tuning issues, etc. This happens every time in the process -- I haven't found any way around it, just through. I guess that's not really bad news, but it's a hard part of the art-making process (or the process of doing anything really worthwhile -- read more about it in "The War of Art").

Good news, however, is here as well. Any of you remember the post I did in February about Community Supported Music? Well it's finally up and running and there are actual members from all over (Anchorage, Toronto, Dallas, DuPont -- of course that's all 4 of the current members).

All kidding aside, I think the first batch of songs is great. Some simpler folky stuff, some more experimental, some worship. If you're interested, sign up at Click on Jonathan and then Sign Up. Annual donation amounts range from $30 to $500. If you do the patron membership ($500) I write an original song based on your ideas (an original song written for someone makes a pretty unique gift).

It feels good to be doing this -- there's a lot of freedom to try new things and just see what comes out (and it's interesting what's emerging).

PS: I was asked to sit in on electric guitar for a great "rock en espanol" band. What an honor.

PPS: Feel free to leave questions or comments about the CSM.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

After the Beginning of the End

So this end is really happening. It's sad and it's good. I just finished laying down the last of the tracks for the last JRL record. (Well, I may have to tweak a couple vocals in mixdown). This leaves mixing the record, designing the cover, and (possibly) a farewell concert. If we do the concert it will most likely be in Goshen and incorporate as many of the amazing musicians as possible who have been part of JRL over the years. That will be incredible if it happens. The record is coming along nicely -- it feels like in many ways it brings together things that emerged from each album before it and mixes it into a diverse but consistent whole (gang vocals-- S2S, a lyrical focus -- JRL10, unique instrumentation and good production -- CITP, and maturing songwriting -- Now).

Thanks again for your comments and encouragement. And thanks to you who continue the journey with me on the CSM.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The End of JRL

I've got a confession to make. For months now I've been wrestling with a big change in my life and and what it means for JRL. No, I'm not dying and we're not having a baby. On a metaphorical level I've run into sandwich board signs with "the end is near" written on them. On a practical level I can't keep doing everything I've been doing. And JRL has started to feel cramped.

Since 2004 JRL has been a big part of my life and identity. I even have nice business cards and look professional.

I've started a lot of bands and gone by a lot of names since I started writing music in the late 80s. JRL is the closest I've ever come to using my own name. Even though it isn't the name I was born with.

Closure is important. Part of me wants to keep every band I ever started as a possibility in my head, but life gets cluttered when you don't let go. You've got to let go of a million possibilities so that a few of them can become actualities. Getting married was hard because it meant narrowing infinite possibilities to one. The result of that narrowing has been a deepening and growth that I could never achieve while keeping my options open.

To put it another way, I've got commitment issues. Where I've overcome them amazing things happen. Where I don't, I'm always starting over.

So is this the end of JRL? If so why?

Not quite. I've got one more record to finish. I think it may end up being my favorite JRL record. I'm also dreaming about doing a "final concert" and trying to get a bunch of the great players together who have been part of JRL over the years. I'm not sure if this will happen or not. If you like the idea let me know.

And after that?

I'll quit booking JRL shows and stop promoting JRL.

I'll write songs, all kinds of songs, without giving a lot of thought to where they will fit or who will listen to them. Some people who have been listening will keep listening. Others won't. New people may tune in. Musicians may discover the songs and want to cover them. I am moving into a season of creativity and freedom.

It's sad though, to be moving on. The songs may be reborn, but JRL is drawing to a close. I think this song, which I wrote recently remembering my high school years (where in many ways music and love began), fits where I am as I contemplate the end of JRL... I hope you like it and can feel a little of what I feel, perhaps thinking about that time of your life and/or an ending or beginning that means something to you right now.

They Can't Tell You
City Song: Kidron (Millsbg) OH, high school
Copyright 5-7-08 Jonathan Reuel

Those days when music ignited
Every cell and muscle
Those nights when truth was a puzzle
Not everybody wrestled

They can't tell you how to find yourself
They can't force you into inspiration
They can't give you anybody else besides
Besides who you wrestle to believe in

Those hours under glaring lights
In the van holding hands in silence
That moment when I realized
I was still an island

Those days when I first hear God
Like the prophets promised
I never suspected what I didn't know but
Everybody's like that because

Those days when I turned away and set out on this journey
But I am who I am today because of what they gave me

(Audio for this song will be posted soon.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Throw them all together

Here is a group of disjointed thoughts, which I'll draw together at the end like an episode of the Cosby Show:

Traveling: I'm laying on a futon in a hot pine paneled room in Greenville, North Carolina. I just got back from Ohio where I played one show with the incredible Ohio version of JRL. And before that I was in the back woods of Arkansas meeting some soon-to-be missionaries, being rescued from copperheads (by a little dog) and tracking down the history of soul and rock and roll in nearby Memphis. This was the first time I have traveled without a guitar and been in 2 states (Tennessee and Arkansas) without playing a gig!

City Songs: Last night I was getting ready to leave VA -- ordering a few more copies of Now, getting the most urgent emails nailed and preparing for an upcoming event. I finished about 2 am. To relax I listened to some recently written tunes. David Oliver (from Bridgeland) and I have been working on this songwriting exercise -- write 6 songs from 6 main places (cities) we've lived. So far I've written about Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Kidron (OH), Asheville (NC), and Warm Springs (VA). Loose arrangements with guitar, vocals, harmonium, and djembe.

Another Now: The studio where I'm recording "Another Now" just got a new computer and is up and running. I'm aiming at a September release date.

Songwriting: I was recently hired to write a song as a gift for someone. It was an interesting challenge. I'd like to do more of this -- it pushes me to be creative and specific. An original song written for you makes a great gift...

CSM: My community supported music idea is finally started -- I've got two members. One from Alaska and one from Texas. I guess we'll start with the big states. Anyone in California want in?

Creativity and Change (the wrap up): So I'm still traveling but I'm playing less shows. I'm writing new songs that are stretching my songwriting skills -- city songs, hired gun tunes and songs that reach towards the roots of gospel, soul and blues. I'm finishing up what may be the last official JRL record while I'm getting the CSM launched so that people who want to follow what's happening with my songwriting can hear new stuff every 3 months. I'm not sure what's ahead musically. I do know that there are new things sprouting in my life -- songs, ideas and visions -- and I'm not sure where they will lead me. But I'm seeing a changing of the guard, and shifting of seasons, a kind of transformation (like water to steam or ice to water) happening in me. At a time when it seems impossible to believe in large scale, fundamental change, I've got this feeling that very soon I'll be able to say with the prophet: "The old is gone, the new has come."

"They can't tell you how to find yourself. They can't force you into inspiration. " (from the city song for Kidron, OH)

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Future of JRL

Here are some facts related to the future of JRL:

- Lately I've also been writing songs that don't fit into the JRL vibe: songs for people, city songs*, collaborations, worship songs, meditation songs, etc. It feels like there's a backlog of pretty good material that nobody gets to hear because it doesn't fit the JRL sound and vision.

- JRL hasn't been very financially viable part time, and I have less rather than more time to devote to it.

- The CSM model (which I talked about on the Feb 28 blog post) has been really drawing me. It gives me a way to spend less time on music, focus on the songwriting element, and stay connected with people who are really interested in my music.

So I'm thinking about putting booking and touring on the back shelf for a while. This has been a challenging decision that I've talked about with a lot of people. I'll still travel regularly but the focus will be on helping people find community and connection to God. This will involve music and creativity. The difference will be I won't be pushing JRL as a band.

I will continue to write music. I recently started a CSM ( This is becoming the place for people to keep up with my music. I regularly post new songs there, along with thoughts about the songwriting process. This is a sort of behind-the-scenes look at my songs for people who want to follow my progress as I launch into uncharted waters musically.

The second recording of the Now series is still in process. I hope to get it done by the fall. We've had some technical difficulties recording. It's some of my favorite music I've ever done so far, and the songs are coming along well.

So the future of JRL is change. What it has been is ending. What is ahead is not yet visible. Come along on the journey and find out!


* David Oliver (of Bridgeland) and I did an exercise where we wrote six songs -- from six places we've lived in our lives.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

JRL's Public Face

In the last few weeks (and blog posts) I've been reflecting about JRL: why I started it, what I've learned, where it's at now, and where it's heading.

As I've been reflecting and talking to people about this, I'm realizing that I have a different picture of JRL than everyone else. I see the vision, the potential, and all the people who have contributed to it. Other people think of JRL as a live show or a cd. I see what's behind JRL and what it could be, while other people see JRL's "public face".

So what's behind JRL's public face?

- Many people donating time, skills, and perspective to projects and events
- Booking and arranging concerts, tours, mailing cds, updating myspace pages and websites
- Writing and recording music, designing cds and promo materials
- Organizing and managing the above

Behind JRL's public face is a lot of work.

Since I started JRL I've been splitting my time and energy between developing the music and developing my other passion: helping people find community and connection to God. On most of my tours my time was split between music and connecting with people. These connections have grown into a network and I've been wrestling with having way too much to do.

This leads me to think about how my music fits into the next stage of my life... and the future of JRL.

Monday, June 9, 2008

JRL in Motion

For those of you who didn't see last week's post, today's post is a continuation on the same story.. starting with reflections on my work as JRL.

As JRL I began to work hard on the craft of songwriting. I began to play songs in coffeehouses and bars. I began to look for feedback from people who were listening to music for the music's sake, rather than as a way to bolster a particular set of beliefs or lifestyle choices. This was an exciting, challenging journey for me. I remember the thrill of one of the first non-church gigs I did while on tour with Radiant -- we played outside of a Puerto Rican restaurant in a parking lot. People going to the grocery store stopped and listened, and you could see that in some cases it brightened their day. That was exhilarating -- it felt like giving a gift. I remember an old grizzled guy who came up to me after a coffeehouse gig who said "that song about better days put into words what I couldn't say" -- or the half-drunk guy at the bar who came up afterwards and asked me "if there was a message" in my music. I asked what message he thought he heard.

I also remember being terrified and feeling really out of place -- like the church that made us take out our earrings and eyebrow rings or the bars where people just wanted to hear Freebird and get wasted. In so many ways JRL has been an education for me. I think I've stumbled upon some good lines and interesting imagery:
"The best kiss I never dreamed I catch left me sweat-soaked and let down... I could stretch the truth to make a roof but that would block out the starlight."

(JRL: You won't say anything)

"Sunfire came and it tore them apart, rung like a bell, drove the sad reek of hell from my heart."

(JRL: Sunfire Faces)

I've also come up with some musical hooks I really like, and that people can't get out of their heads.

As I'm wrapping up the second Now record (Another Now) and thinking about the next phase of life I see big changes coming. The original impulse and vision that launched JRL has for the most part been accomplished. I'm writing better songs now, and all kinds of people can and have connected with. I'm not so stuck inside the Christian subculture and I'm not terrified to take my guitar into coffeehouses and bars. I haven't gotten rich and famous, or developed a touring lifestyle that's sustainable as JRL -- but that wasn't the goal when I started out, so it's good to look back at the original vision. I still think some of the music I write needs to be heard by a wider audience than has heard it so far. Most artists think that. Here's an encouraging thought, though: I wrote Water Fall On Me 6 or 8 years before anyone paid attention to it. Now it's being sung in churches all over the country and has been recorded by several artists. Maybe the same thing will happen with JRL songs -- if so, look for people to really start catching on somewhere around 2010!

Some of the music I'm writing these days doesn't really fit in the JRL "box" (as big a box as that is). What does this mean? Where is it all headed?

Check back next week to find out more.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Prologue to JRL

I've been thinking about the history of JRL over the last couple weeks. My wife Christa just graduated from college finally (after 12 years off and on). This transition has me thinking about my life and priorities and songwriting and JRL. Looking back makes me laugh...

I've been writing songs since I was a teenager. My early songs were very issue based, growing out of my faith and upbringing. This meant I wrote a lot of songs about Jesus, morality, caring for the poor and speaking out against injustice. For example one early lyric of which I am particularly embarrassed:
"Now that I've got your attention there's something I'd like to say. Where is the justice in this old world today? The peasant is starving while the millionaire feeds steak to his dog from his easy chair... where is the justice? where can it be? It comes from God above through you and me."
(Jade Dagger: Where is the Justice)

I also wrote a lot of love songs, few of them at all original, although they were all heartfelt. For example:
"Boy was made for girl we figured this was it, but after a little while it didn't seem to fit because all the time we spent was in a nervous fit... come to me, might not be easy but you were made for me."
And then after I'd worn out the oldest cliches I moved on to slightly more obscure love song imagery.
"Every time when I try to hide it the feeling just won't go. Like a wrinkled old man in a cottage by the shore. Years ago he used to care and he used to roam the seas, searching for a love, a love that would never fail."
(Genre: I Fall In Love)

I'm sure there could be some interesting archetypal or Freudian analysis of those lyrics --but hey, at least there began to be images rather than only a string of cliches...

After years of this sort of writing I began to write songs that were basically prayers directed to God. I went through a sort of spiritual awakening in which I connected with God in a whole new way, including emotions and creativity. Some of the songs I wrote during that time were more reflective and personal, while others were exuberant, corporate sing-along-stick-in-your-head songs. Some people (and churches) are still singing some of those songs. Some imagery made it's way into those tunes as well. For example:
"Let your rain come down all around, let the thunder sound, shake the ground, let the waterfall pound breaking down all the lies you found under me,"
(Sonchild: Water Fall On Me)


"There is a desert, a place where we all have to go. A place where the sun beats ceaseless, burning the sand. A place marked by dried up rivers and skies without clouds. A place with a thousand inroads and only one way out."
(Sonchild:There is a River)

After a good season of writing spiritual songs within the Christian and specifically Mennonite (yes, it's different than Amish) context I began to feel boxed in, segregated and uncomfortable about that. It all came to a head one time when I was at a big youth convention hanging out with "good Christian kids" inside a big convention center. One evening I stepped out of the convention center and the park that surrounded it was full of people all listening to some band from the seventies (something in the Kansas vein). At that moment I realized I had to get out of the isolated Christian subculture and begin to find a way to connect with people. If I was about following Jesus I needed to go to the kind of places Jesus went -- and Jesus was notorious for spending time with people that the religious people thought you should stay away from. So I started JRL.

Next week I'll have more on JRL's story and where it's going now.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

JRL This Week: May 13-17

Tuesday night: house concert with Andrew Kreider, quirky, intelligent songcrafter. We’ll split the gig. He’ll have an upright bass player. I’ll mostly play solo, some new songs and stuff from Now and past projects. I may have a guest musician or two show up. I love the personal connection at house concerts.
7 PM. 1726 Roys Ave, Elkhart, IN 46516

Wednesday night: Concert with Jerimae Yoder at the Beanery in Mishawaka. We’ll split the show. He’s a good guitarist who does some interesting atmospheric stuff with loops. I’m excited to push out the Americana feel of what I do.
7 PM. 117 S Main, Mishawaka, IN 46544

Friday night: I’m going to be in downtown Goshen enjoying the new band Nate Butler (drummer on several JRL records) has put together, Frequency Theater. They cover a JRL tune and asked me to sit in on it, so that’s exciting.
7PM. Goshen Theater, 216 S Main St. Goshen, IN. Doors at 6:30 PM, $5 Cover

Saturday afternoon: Songwriting Seminar at Lifespring Community Church. This is open to anyone who currently writes songs or is interested in songwriting. I will do some reflection and teaching as well as some creative exercises. Should be fun. No charge.
12-2 PM. 116 S 3rd St, Goshen, IN

Saturday night: The Electric Brew. This is one of the best places for JRL. There’s always a crowd of young and old friends of the band, and the energy that’s there when some people really know and love the music is amazing. I’ll do some old favorites, some stuff from Now, as well as a bit of experimental, improvisational stuff. The band will be eclectic, hopefully including a bit of brass. If you can be there, come, it’s like a quirky musical family reunion that’s actually fun.
7 PM. 136 S Main St., Goshen, IN. $5 Cover

Monday, April 28, 2008

That Bigger, Crazy Dream

For the last few days I've been in Texas. I came down to play a couple concerts and attend and participate in two conferences. The first one ended tonight.

I make music because I need to for my own sake, but truth be told I've always had this bigger, crazy dream that I could be part of Jesus changing culture – through creativity and music and truths and generosity replacing the way things are now.

For instance: in the push to establish themselves, a lot of musicians put each other down, compare themselves, get really focused on money, get cynical or bitter, or manipulate people to get what they want. Also – equally disconcerting -- they compromise artistically, not being as creative or excellent as they could be. They sometimes just play what people want to hear rather than bringing something more substantive. Other times they play what they feel like playing when the people really need to hear something else. And on and on.

This particular conference stirred up old dreams again: I want a great band with diverse and international elements (South African guitar, Jamaican vocals, a French horn, trombone and trumpet, upright bass, drums, perc, and a multi-instrumentalist lead player). Someday. That's my dream band. In the short term I want a great bass player and drummer who really connect with both the music I write and this purpose I have for my music -- and I'd like some people I can really work with for a while and get not only solid, but get to that miraculous place called synergy where (as Bono puts it) "God walks in the room".

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Like Things That Cannot Be Said Anymore

Step inside the thoughts that caught in Anna Paquarello's mind while listening to JRL Now:

- As an album, it's very cohesive and easy to listen to. I've been playing it a lot this week as background music to just get the music in my head

-I Went West: I really like the line "I don't want your photograph, I just want to make you laugh". I like how the lines do not especially rhyme altogether (throughout), but the last words tend to and that is what ties it all together.

-Unnamed 1: I especially like this song (part of that is because I feel as though I can really relate to it right now). The words are few which is very fitting for the theme of the song. The instrument lines without the words is like the 'things you never said', almost as if they are things that words could not even capture, or things that cannot be said anymore.

-Unnamed 2: The way you sang this song really fits the idea you are portraying. It sounds exhausted and sleep deprived ("Find the strength to sleep") as if you have been waiting for something/someone a long time and it's wearing you out; you want to rest, but you still need to wait.

-In general, the songs are specific enough to give a clear idea of what you are saying and the idea you are clearly conveying, but also vague enough in the sense that (I think anyway) anyone could relate or apply it to their own life in some way (they're easy to connect with)

-Nothing but Empty: I like that the repeat of the chorus is quiet with more expression in the voice and slow instrumental lines

-Better This Way: The underlying current of tension from the different strumming pattern (style?) and chords during the chorus fits the lyrics

What are you thinking?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reviewing JRL Now

Contributed by Tim Groff

Jonathan Reuel opens his most recent CD release with the best track of the recording – encapsulating the project in a phrase – “We’ve all got this loneliness.” He finishes the project off with a decision in Better Yet: “Don’t you know I’m staying here with you.”

Throughout the album Reuel walks through the landscape of his life – Central Park, Covington and Camellia Drive – and emotions, loneliness, loss and love – through realities and pitfalls we’ll all recognize with some tested maturity coming through the songwriter’s script.

“We’ve all got this loneliness:” So? – What’s so special about any one young artist moaning about loneliness again? Don’t we have enough of those?

Well, Yes. But the reason the first track of this recording reaches out and grabs me by my cowlick every time I come across it up on my iPod isn’t really the lyrics at first. This song brings an old feeling back to me – something I enjoyed in the earlier music of the friend I call Jonathan. The bare bones quality of the recording – Reuel and his guitar (“Hey, I could play that”) – makes it feel like you’re sitting there at the closest table of a nearly empty coffee house somewhere in a small college town. The tone of the music and quality of his voice feels personal – up close.

After some lyrical moaning about loneliness, Reuel breaks out with some of his gripping prophetic honesty.

“God I’m sitting here with you,
God I’m pretty sure that you know what we’re going through -
The truth is, I don’t understand, the truth is we all need a hand
If we’re going to quit blaming it on you . . .”

Some of the songs on this album have cropped up from somewhere in Reuel’s medium-chaotic, part-church, half-coffeehouse road tours; which is something I can’t relate to since I have a comfortable house, a regular job and a family to come home to in a small Midwest town.

In a number of the songs, Reuel breaks out the sweet harmonica licks we remember from private evenings in dorm rooms or sparsely attended concerts in the old days.

I Went West and Camellia Drive Lullaby add a finger-plucked lullaby style that hasn’t been heard on many Reuel albums recently. The plucking isn’t flawless, but Reuel’s tour tested voice is nearly perfect as he sings as though literally falling asleep.

My least favorite song of the album was Memories and Towns. I hate songs like this. They’re like inside jokes you had to be there to get. Covington, Philly, Goshen, Millersburg, what do these towns have in common? I don’t really know, except they are a few places where Reuel has traveled over the past few years.

The final track of the album, Better Yet will hook you with the first line, “Love me now, I’m tired as a housewife . . .” Reuel unblushingly proclaims his faithful love, “Faithful as the seasons . . .” and declares: “Don’t you know I’m staying here with you . . .”

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Why do I write music?

Current answers (not in order of importance):

1. I write music as a way of getting in touch with where I'm at internally -- to wrestle through emotions, ideas and experiences.
2. I write music as a way of connecting with God. Usually this involves admitting my need for divine help and asking for it.
3. I write music because I love to explore -- sounds, ideas, feelings, dreams, memories, etc.
4. I write music for the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a project (holding the cd in my hand).
5. I write music to help make a living (concerts, cd sales, etc).
6. I write music because music can open me up to what's real that I'm usually ignoring or unaware of.
7. I write music in hopes that it will create space for other people to get in touch with themselves and reality, and connect with God.

The last goal is an important one, although if I had put too much stock in it, I'd have quit long before now. It's pretty rare that I
hear from people about a specific way in which my music impacted their lives. I just got an email like that -- I want to share some of it with you:

"Those two albums (Caught in the Paydirt and Now) have been the onlythings I've been listening to (in the last while). Every once and a while I hit an album or an artist that I listen to to the exclusion of everything else. Maroon 5 recently, Jason Mraz before that, maybe a few others from high school if I really thought about it.

These two albums have been the most incredible counter-point and compliment to the emotion of the season for me. I haven't even been able to get down into the details of each of the songs, since I've just been absorbing the whole flow and texture of the music. Being emotionally tender and introspective without becoming melancholic is a really difficult balance for me to walk out.

As I'm writing this I'm realizing that what I've needed more than anything is someone or something to dialog with about my internal state, and that's what your music has been giving me. I'm completely convinced that I would not have been able to come out of the last week feeling as safe, settled, and comforted as I have without all of the dimensions of your albums."

A couple reflections about what my friend Justin wrote:
1. Ok, Ok, already -- it's worth it.

2. He listened to the music in a focused, open, and repetitive way. This has a lot to do with music connecting on a deeper level. I want to listen like this more, and I want to connect with listeners who do this or are learning to.

3. The music helped create space for introspection that wasn't destructively melancholic. A songwriter I admire told me that the songwriter has a sacred trust to deliver something of value that has the "completeness" of truth to it. I tend to be very process-oriented and let people in to the journey with me (in all it's messiness and confusion), so I sometimes fall short of that standard. Taking pain seriously and moving through it is different than avoiding or wallowing in it.

Still, the only way to learn to do that is to take space and work at it. Justin is a disciplined person committed to growth -- I think this is part of why the music was so helpful to him. Also I see it as the goodness of God working to bring comfort through whatever channels are open to be used for that. I'm attempting to open myself and my music to be used in that way.

I was encouraged and challenged by that email: to keep going, to listen more deeply to music (and people and life) and to face and move through pain rather than avoid or numb it.


PS: Justin is a writer.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Working for JRL

Jon's been asking me to write on this blog--to write about the music, my experience of it, my review of the new recording, etc. So you may see more here from me in the future. Being a part of JRL, in the past and in what's to come, is something I appreciate a great deal. Not all artists are as generous with their hearts, their time, their ears and their stage space as Jonathan Reuel. Thinking about Jon's music quickly took me back the road to when I first knew Jon--and his early recordings, which I wore out playing over and over--on cassette. One of my favorites was a mix tape of original music Jon made up with hand-drawn cover art. That's one thing Jon has always been good at, making the music personal, bringing it home to each of us.

I started singing with Jon somewhere along the way; eventually we got in our heads that it was a good idea for a bunch of folks to move down to Charlottesville, to work on music, art and being more like Jesus. For me, the year in JRL was something I would have dreamed of as a kid, but in reality a larger dose of hard work is mixed in with the fun and laughter. Caught in the Paydirt is the fruit of our mining for ore... figuring how to put time and money into music when those resources aren't so easily found. Jon's music provided the core of what we were out there working up, supporting and sharing. The songs provided the opportunity.

JRL Now gives us a solid view of those core bones; the center of what JRL gives to each listener. I love how in concert and various recordings the songs take on different shapes: rooted in bass grooves, peppered with horns, rolling with organs, swelling accordion style, swampy snare drums and the like; but it all comes back to Jon and his guitar and that is what Now has hand-delivered this time. With more to come soon.

Amber Butler is a former member of JRL (2005-2006) as vocalist and bass guitarist. She jumps in on vocals whenever she finds herself at a JRL show and hums harmonies at any given moment. She currently resides in Goshen, IN.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

JRL Incarnated with Trombone, Accordion and the Lap Steel

Last night JRL put on a whirlwind show prepared in one week's time. Jon was traveling through Goshen in order to reconnect with the newly minted Goshen College Songwriter's Collective, an organization he helped to kickoff with a workshop earlier this year. When Jon noticed the open Friday evening at The Electric Brew, he began scheming on who he could ask to sit in with him. This time the motley crew included Isaac Lederach on trombone, Kent Beck on accordion, Jerimae Yoder on lap steel, Michelle Milne on percussion, Kim Glick and Amber Butler on vocals. This ensemble brought rousing horns (a ten year dream come true for the artist) and swelling drones to support Jon's singer-songwriter prowess. While the arrangements were somewhat haphazard (with Jon often leaning over to whisper suggestions to Isaac midsong), they often came out something beautiful, almost accidental, and possibly, forever unique to that one evening. The discovery of these familiar songs incarnated in unfamiliar instruments made the evening delightful; mistakes infused with humor, taking a risk yields moments of surprise.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Meditate On This!

Jonathan has taken a step beyond. JRL "Now" has a companion set of meditation cards you can use to help guide your thoughts while listening to the new album. The set is comprised of twelve cards printed in color from Jonathan's watercolor originals, each matching up with a track on the album. They are signed by the artist and will soon be available to buy in the JRL store.

The cards are to be used for reflection, meditation and prayer, and will help you think about connections in your life, memory, dreams and the present moment. Jonathan was first inspired to create this type of card after encountering a similar set that Paul Grout, of A Place Apart had put together. Jonathan is giving you an exclusive sneak preview of three of the cards here on the JRL blog.

The Cyclone card is paired with "Better This Way"

The Love card pairs with "If You Were Mine"

Fences pairs with "I Don't Mind Waiting"

The couplings of of the rest of the cards and tracks are found below:

Promises (I Went West)
View (Back Then)
Loneliness (We've All Got This)
Dream (Someone Else's Dream)
Grateful (Memories and Towns)
Wish (Nothing but Empty)
Found (Nothing Left)
Rest (Camellia Drive Lullaby)
Stay (Better Yet)

More on how to purchase soon to come!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bring Jesus into it

JRL is hitting the road this coming Wednesday. Along the way he’ll be at Bluffton College and Goshen College, as well tracking more time in the studio in Wilmington, OH.

This week JRL offers another track to share recorded with Mark Bovee and the crew from Woodland Park, Colorado, recorded at a house concert with windows open to the Rockies. “Daughters and Sons” features a zydeco sound with Bovee on a harmonium. Jon shares these thoughts:

"Jesus has been important to me for years. I'm looking for ways of bringing this part of my life into my writing for JRL in a way that is interesting and beautiful to anyone, whatever their experience and thoughts about Jesus. I'd love to hear whether people connect with this song and how it strikes people to whom Jesus is not central."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Community Supported Music

Jonathan is planning on starting a brand new venture that allows you to get involved with the inside of his music. It’s a new way of thinking about the relationship between an artist and his audience. For more details, read on!

What is Community Supported Music (CSM)?
It's a creative way to work at the relationship of an artist and the people who support that artist and/or enjoy her/his work. This CSM is a structured way for people to support an artist whose work and life they believe in, and a way for Jonathan to share music and thoughts more regularly with the people who are interested in that.

How does it work?
A person who likes Jonathan's music and wants to support him as he works at it subscribes to Jonathan Reuel's CSM. Four times a year they get a delivery including new songs, lyrics and thoughts from Jonathan about both the writing and listening process.

Who is it for?
- People who want to support Jonathan Reuel and his creative work.
- People who'd like to hear songs more regularly and at an earlier phase (soon after they are written, before all the instruments are added).
- People who want to use Jonathan's music in their own prayer and meditation
- Musicians and writers interested in songwriting, the creative process and where the songs come from.
- Groups who want to use Jonathan's songs in a corporate setting. This could include playing the recording publicly or singing together. Includes school groups, churches, businesses, etc.

What do you get?
- 3 to 5 new songs every quarter. Mostly these will be simple guitar and vocal recordings.
- Lyrics and chords to the songs
- Thoughts about the writing of the songs and the creative process
- Suggestions for using the songs in personal or corporate prayer, meditation or worship.

Where did the idea come from?
We heard about it first from Bryan Moyer Suderman who came up with the idea of "community supported music," basing it on the model of "community supported agriculture." Check out his blog and website to find out what Bryan is up to now. Another artist, Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens tried something similar, so the idea is not only our own.

Jonathan on why I think this whole idea is brilliant
"The whole idea of a CSM really strikes me because as much as possible I like to develop relationships with people rather than collecting fans or selling products. Sales isn't a bad thing, but some kind of ongoing connection is, to me, much more satisfying."

Watch here for more details regarding the CSM launch in the coming months.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

JRL Rarities (& Oddities)

Once in awhile we’d like to give you the opportunity to listen in on live moments at various JRL concerts. This week’s track features the ironic humor of an amp gone bad in a particularly short version of "Better Days" featuring Tim Shue on electric guitar, Toby Hazlett on bass and Andrew Simms on cajon, followed by their rendition of "Better" from the same set in Ohio.

Enjoy another rare JRL moment featuring Mark Bovee and Colorado friends performing the song "Advertised". Mark’s music is featured at

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stuck in Goshen

A Review of JRL’s Latest Album: “Now”
By Adam Fleming and David Stahnke

ADAM: “We’ve all got this… lonely…”
DAVE: “Nesssssssss.”
ADAM: Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, this album is primarily about expressing emotion through melodies and simple guitar riffs. At his best, JR is channeling Aaron Copland, and at his worst, Bob Dylan.
DAVE: And let’s not forget: “His Bobness” ain’t too shabby. I like this record. It took a few times of listening through but the album grew on me. As JR’s first official solo project it does well to capture both his strengths and sound.
ADAM: Yes, the live sound comes through as intended. Now, here’s what I’d suggest. Go back in and pick one track to add a mandolin, and another to add a female vocalist. Change two out of fourteen songs and you add so much dynamically to the complete package.
DAVE: Okay, but not so much that you lose sight of JR’s lyrics and unique vocal quality.
ADAM: Exactly. The emotions JR wrestles with lyrically on this album exhibit a deep maturity brought on by hardship. They say the best wine is grown in regions where vines struggle to survive. This is why so few people write great songs. JR does it at least four or five times on this album, and that’s pretty good. Personally, I know what it feels like to be “stuck in Goshen, Indiana.” With this CD, I can relate, laugh and cry together with JRL.
DAVE: And, if you attend a show you could also ask him to play “Free Bird.”
ADAM: If I wanted to die.
DAVE: I haven’t died yet. And I’ve requested that one at least six times!
ADAM: Yeah, I know, and you’re looking pale.
DAVE: Still wondering if you should attend a JRL show and put down some shekels for this CD? Yes to both. JRL is both talented and genial and not to be missed.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Time Is Now

If you’ve been wondering when you could get JRL “Now,” the fourth project released by JRL since 2005, it is now available from “Now” is a stripped down predecessor of the upcoming JRL “Another Now” which will be released this coming May. While “Now” is reminiscent of the stripped-down JRL10 (an acoustic album originally released in 2005), “Another Now” will feature many of the tracks from “Now” in full-band glory as well as adding several more to the mix.

We will be posting reviews in the coming weeks and as you get your hands on this record, feel free to show up here and add your two cents as well!

Jonathan is in the studio with “Another Now” where they are getting to the mix stage of the album. This week drum and bass tracks are making their way through the mail from Goshen, IN to Wilmington, OH. And with all that going on, JRL is also gearing up for another round of shows, so be watching Myspace ( and for details as the tour develops.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Reviewing JRL Now

I'm working on getting some different people to write reviews of my new recording. Part of what I think would be really cool would be to get unofficial reviews, feedback from you all. What do you like about the record? Favorite songs? What do you think doesn't work as well? If the songs hit you on an emotional level, what are you feeling? What does it make you remember or think about?

I write music because I know it can make life better (not necessarily easier, but better). Songs can help us see and feel things we're hiding from or remind us of part of who we are that we've forgotten. They can encourage or challenge or let us feel. (They can also make nice background noise while we get our work done).

So if you have a few thoughts about the new album, even a sentence or two, leave it as a comment here. And be as honest and specific as you can -- that helps us all have a chance to see what you see.



1. To leave a comment click on the little line that says comment at the end of this blog entry. It should give you a chance to comment.
2. If you don't own "Now" you can get it at You can also listen to a couple of the songs for free at (Someone Elses' Dream and Memories and Towns are up right now).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Getting all ready to tour

I've been in such a recording and planning mode it's great to be thinking about touring again. It has been good to be home though. I'm looking forward to giving you windows into all things jrl -- how the music gets created, stories from traveling, etc. I can't wait to read intelligent and passionate interactions about the recordings and the shows from you all.