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.